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Stage presence

7 May 2012 / by / 2 comments

Stage presence

A US the­atre and con­cert group of seniors aged 73 to 89 takes to the stage dur­ing Sin­ga­pore Arts Fes­ti­val, sup­ported by a founder who has been with them for 30 years.

BY: Eleanor Yap

At this year’s Sin­ga­pore Arts Fes­ti­val, stereo­types will be bro­ken. A US the­atre and con­cert group of golden agers from 73 to 89 called Young@Heart will be tak­ing the stage and belt­ing out songs by leg­endary bands and iconic musi­cians like Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Vel­vet Under­ground, Bön Jovi, Blondie and Bob Dylan. The group will be on stage for its pro­duc­tion called “End of the Road” from May 23 to 26 at the SOTA Drama Theatre.

Age­lesson­line talks to the group’s founder, Bob Cil­man, 59, (left) about why he started the group (where he is paid), what he has learned about his age­ing and why such a group is so impor­tant to its cast members:

What made you and Judith Sharpe start Young@Heart in 1982?

I met her at a show I was pro­duc­ing. She came up to me and intro­duced her­self. She offered her ser­vices to play the piano at a sing-​along. I worked at a meal site for low-​income elders where we served meals for US$0.75 (approx­i­mately S$0.94) to peo­ple over 60. A sing-​along seemed like a good idea to break up the routine.

You were then 29 and Judith?

I think, over 60.

You have also got­ten older with the group – what have you learned from the group about age­ing and about yourself?

There’s no stop­ping it. I’m not sure I’m age­ing as well as many of the peo­ple who have been in the group. Maybe when I get to retire from my day job as direc­tor of the Northamp­ton Arts Coun­cil, I could find an equally enjoy­able activ­ity as Young@Heart.

You have seen a lot through the 30 years includ­ing a num­ber of the seniors’ pass­ing. That must be very hard. What are your thoughts on this and what makes you keep doing it over and over again?

There’s no avoid­ing this either. Each pass­ing is dif­fer­ent. Some mem­bers are ready to go, some aren’t. I’ve always been impressed that peo­ple keep com­ing to our group. I’m never bored of the chal­lenges of new peo­ple and new songs. When I do get bored, I will stop but the group won’t.

Can you share two mem­o­rable cast mem­bers includ­ing Anna Main? How many ini­tial cast mem­bers did you have besides Anna?

The group has always been around 25 peo­ple, although lately we have many more than that attend­ing rehearsals. Peo­ple are liv­ing longer, although two of our orig­i­nal mem­bers, Anna Main and Dia­mond Lil­lian Aubrey, lived to 100 and 96 respec­tively. They were both from the World War I gen­er­a­tion – the not-​quite-​ready-​to-​be-​the-​greatest-​generation – gen­er­a­tion.

I adored the early pio­neers of Young@Heart. They were wacky. They had the fun­ni­est expres­sions and they didn’t care very much about where the group was going. No self-​importance. Some of the most inter­est­ing work came out of the early days.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_2146” align=“alignright” width=“300” caption=“Young@Heart cho­rus in “End of the Road”.”][/​caption]

You have had a num­ber of pro­duc­tions with Roy Faudree’s group, No The­ater. Can you explain your col­lab­o­ra­tion with them?

No The­ater wasn’t a senior group when I first met them and we started work­ing together back in 1983. We’ve all become much older. They cre­ate exper­i­men­tal the­atre, some­times they do that with us, but they do loads of other work as well with­out us.

Young@Heart also doesn’t only do the­atre, we also have con­cert shows. (They both are all music. The the­atre shows are staged with cos­tumes and sets while the con­certs are just stand and deliver.)

No The­ater was involved in our first staged pro­duc­tion called “Stompin’ at the Salvo” in 1983. We col­lab­o­rated again on a large the­atre piece in our com­mu­nity called “Louis Lou I: A Revolt­ing Musi­cal”. It was a retelling of the French Rev­o­lu­tion set in Las Vegas using the songs of Sinatra.

In 1997, we started tour­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tive road­shows. “Road to Heaven” ran from 1997 to 2004. It was set in a sur­re­al­is­tic nurs­ing home and used many songs we had devel­oped in ear­lier shows. “Road to Nowhere” ran from 2004 to 2007 and was per­formed on a set that resem­bled our rehearsal space in a com­mu­nity cen­tre. The show was about work­ing past your retire­ment years. “End of the Road” was first per­formed in 2009 and was cre­ated by No The­ater to be per­formed by Young@Heart. Sto­ry­lines evolve through the lyrics of the songs and the pic­ture that is cre­ated on stage is by the direc­tors of No The­ater, Roy Fau­dree and Sheena See.

How many live shows have you had since you started?

Hun­dreds, easily.

How does it work – you have a new live show every year?

No. We run our the­atre shows and con­cert shows for many years. In the old days, we did a new the­atre col­lab­o­ra­tion almost every year with groups (such as break dancers, gay men’s cho­rus, Cam­bo­dian singers and dancers, Latino youth group, gospel cho­rus, col­lege a capella groups and oth­ers) in our town. We stopped doing that in 1995 because we started tour­ing in Europe twice a year with No Theater.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_2147” align=“alignleft” width=“300” caption=“The Young@Heart cho­rus.”][/​caption]

How many cast mem­bers do you cur­rently have?

There are about 37 peo­ple com­ing to rehearsal. We have around 23 cast mem­bers for the the­atre work and 29 mem­bers for the con­certs. That’s just the elders and not the band.

And what about the sched­ule they keep – is a show once a month?

It varies. After Sin­ga­pore, we have a show in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut (June). Then we tour to Col­orado (August), then Japan (Sep­tem­ber), then Boston and Cape Cod, and after that some local shows (Octo­ber). We’re set­ting up shows in Maine, New Eng­land; Eng­land; Hol­land and pos­si­bly Nor­way for 2013.

You men­tioned you are break­ing stereo­types, what stereo­types are those?

Typ­i­cally older peo­ple are use to being enter­tained, not being the enter­tain­ers. This really plays out in an inter­est­ing way for the group. In Amer­ica, venues pride them­selves in being acces­si­ble. But that often means their house has been updated so the audi­ence has a much eas­ier time get­ting in and out. Their back­stage, on the other hand, can be a night­mare. They didn’t see us com­ing and they never fig­ured that the stage needed to be made accessible.

I guess that means you have updated a num­ber of stages at home! Is this sce­nario play­ing out over­seas too that you noticed?

The stage we use at home is man­age­able, although not exactly acces­si­ble. The best the­atres we have found for per­form­ers back­stage were in Japan.

How well-​received are you over­seas and at home in the US?

Very well. It’s dif­fer­ent every­where we go, but it’s always well-​received.

With hav­ing a cast from the ages of 73 to 89, doesn’t that lend itself to some challenges?

You just need to come along on a tour. Our con­cerns are very dif­fer­ent than most trav­el­ling arts organ­i­sa­tions. Safety and health are our major con­cerns. The cast has, over the years, learned to travel very well. The first time we trav­elled, it was such a scary propo­si­tion. Every­thing went fine, but we were ner­vous about this new kind of travel. We actu­ally brought a doc­tor with us and he was the only one who got sick!

Because we have done it so many times now, we have devel­oped a cer­tain pro­to­col for travel. That being said, we can never let our guard down.

Who is the old­est and youngest in the group?

Dora Mor­row and Jean Flo­rio are the old­est at 90, while Eileen Litke is the youngest at 73.

Have you ever had to can­cel a show?

Only because of weather and only twice in our hometown.

What are also some ben­e­fits to hav­ing an older cast?

They show up early in the morn­ing and rehearse. Typ­i­cally, it is two hours, twice a week. For the most part, they really want to be there. They aren’t indi­vid­u­als look­ing for their big break.

When a new cast mem­ber joins in, what ini­ti­a­tion do they go through?

We have new peo­ple sing for the group the first time they show up. It takes a long time to fig­ure out whether there is a good fit. It’s a tricky one and we strug­gle with this a lot.

What hap­pens if they can sing, but they can’t act?

We’ve had that and it can work out well. But it’s not act­ing in the tra­di­tional sense. It’s more about being inter­est­ing on stage and not demand­ing a lot of attention.

How do you get new cast members?

Almost always they just walk in the door. We did encour­age one mem­ber we saw first at the post office. I think it was her long flow­ing white hair that caught our administrator’s eye. 

Why do the elders join your group?

There are many rea­sons. It’s a chance for them to do some­thing in their retire­ment that they may have wanted to do as a career. Some enjoy the chal­leng­ing work. It’s all over the map. I’m sure they would all tell you that they have ben­e­fit­ted by being in the group.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_2148” align=“alignright” width=“300” caption=“Young@Heart in con­cert.”][/​caption]

You already have a doc­u­men­tary and a CD and I see with this year being your 30th anniver­sary, you have new T-​shirts. What else are you planning?

We are doing three shows in our home­town to cel­e­brate the 30th and we are plan­ning an exhibit at the local library of pho­tos, cos­tumes, ban­ners, posters, etc. We are also putting out a new CD and a tour book for the con­cert shows.

Are you the only the­atre group in the US for seniors?

No.

Have you con­sid­ered hav­ing branches of Young@Heart in other big locales in the US?

No.

Some com­ments from cast members:

Shirley Stevens, 77 with two chil­dren ­– “Why do I enjoy it so much? Because we bring so much joy to so many peo­ple it’s unbe­liev­able and that in turn brings me great joy. The rehearsals are so much fun even though we work hard. I would never miss one of them. Our direc­tor is the best in the world; with­out Bob we would not exist. In the pro­duc­tion, at one point I am in a World War I nurse’s cape. The whole thing is a karaōke in a night­club. I sing “Trou­ble” after the take the cape off and I make my entrance to the song “Only The Strong Survive”.”

Dora Mor­row, 90, with 15 chil­dren and a grand­mother, great-​grandmother and great, great-​grandmother of a total of 58 grand­chil­dren – “I joined Young@Heart cho­rus shortly after the pass­ing of my hus­band Lewis, which caused a void in my life and a lit­tle bit of lone­li­ness. With a lit­tle bit of edg­ing on from my son-​in-​law, Bill Arnold who is the drum­mer in the Young@Heart band, he brought me to the chorus’s rehearsal one day just so that I could get out of the house and meet some other fel­low peers. Needless to say, here I am 10 years later singing and danc­ing with the group. Yes, on that very first day of rehearsal, I no longer was a vis­i­tor, I became a member.”

(** PHOTO CRED­ITS: Bob Cil­man photo by Jeff Derose; Young@Heart cho­rus in “End of the Road” by Hugo Glen­den­ning (also pic on next page); Young@Heart Cho­rus by Jodi Nicholas; and Young@Heart in con­cert by Yuka Yumaji (also pic on next page)) 


See more on Young@Heart in an inter­view with Roy Fau­dree on the next page.

Age­lesson­line also speaks with Roy Fau­dree, the founder of No The­ater (this the­atre group works with peo­ple of all ages) and a direc­tor of Youth@Heart, who worked with Young@Heart at the begin­ning and was instru­men­tal in them per­form­ing out­side of the US (there are no pic­tures of Fau­dree as he is camera-​shy):

How young are you?

I’m 65. I’m offi­cially a senior cit­i­zen in the US.

What made you decide to work with Bob’s group Young@Heart in 1983?

When I was young I thought I had time to do just about any­thing that some­one asked me to do. In 1983 when Bob Cil­man asked me to direct a “stage” show (it really was just a raised sec­tion of the din­ing hall of a senior res­i­dence), No The­ater was almost 10 years old and we still didn’t really have a theatre. For each new pro­duc­tion, we would find an empty or ignored space in town (Northamp­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts) to con­vert to a the­atre for the length of the run. To work with peo­ple a lot older than I seemed like a good idea. We had always worked with a wide range of ages, includ­ing really young chil­dren (in pro­duc­tions of “A Mid­sum­mer Night Dream”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “The Glass May­on­naise Jar”, and “Last Resort”).

[cap­tion id=“attachment_2149” align=“alignleft” width=“300” caption=“Young@Heart cho­rus in “End of the Road”.”][/​caption]

Can you share some thoughts on the first live show?

I can’t remem­ber much about Young@Heart and No Theater’s first show “Stompin’ At The Salvo”. It was com­posed pri­mar­ily of songs that the cho­rus already knew, such as “I Got Spurs that Jin­gle Jan­gle Jin­gle”, “old-​timey” tunes. It was 1983, before the com­puter had infil­trated every aspect of our lives. I’m now much older. I have a lot of mem­o­ries and not a very good fil­ing sys­tem on my “hard drive”. In “Stompin’” I mainly remem­ber danc­ing on stage with a woman twice my age to the music of Irv­ing Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” in front of a pro­jec­tion of Fred Astaire and Gin­ger Rodgers danc­ing in the 1935 movie “Top Hat”.

Heaven, I’m in Heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak;
And I seem to find the hap­pi­ness I seek
When we’re out together danc­ing, cheek to cheek.

How has the long-​time col­lab­o­ra­tion been? What chal­lenges and ben­e­fits have you had work­ing with an older cast?

The Young@Heart/No The­ater col­lab­o­ra­tions “Road to Heaven” and “Road to Nowhere” toured for 10 years all over Europe and to Aus­tralia, Canada and Hawaii. We began work on our cur­rent show “End of the Road” six years ago with an inves­ti­ga­tion of the music of the cho­rus mem­bers’ youth.

Early work on “End of the Road” was singing new songs in a “cabaret for­mat” in the bar of the the­atre in Berlin, Ger­many, where we were per­form­ing “Road to Nowhere”. I next asked each cho­rus mem­ber to bring in a song they already knew and we sung them in a senior res­i­dence home in Angers, France, while on tour with “Road to Nowhere”. We con­tin­ued to prompt the cho­rus to bring to rehearsals songs they knew years ago. Some of these made it into “End of the Road”. We made a point of try­ing to locate music that spanned the past decades of their lives. The show now has four songs from the 30s, two from the 40s, three from the 50s, seven from the 60s, eight from the 70s, five from the 80s, four from the 90s, and nine from the last decade. The idea is that songs are often linked to a time in our past and bring up old mem­o­ries. We rehearsed in bars, senior cen­tres, col­leges, out­doors and also while on tour with other shows. 

The cho­rus learns new music quickly now and the singers are much more adven­ture­some to embrace a wide range of musi­cal styles. When you go for 30 years on a project, you are deal­ing with a chang­ing, dif­fer­ent age within yourself. You develop dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on what is the nature of the dif­fer­ent ages one goes through. Each new decade of your life brings a dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of that stage in life. We need to be around the old when we’re young. I like to say, ‘We all die, but if we’re lucky we get to grow old first’. The old know what it’s like to be young. The young can learn from the old.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_2150” align=“alignright” width=“300” caption=“Young@Heart cho­rus.”][/​caption]

Any lessons learned?

Hang onto what­ever advan­tages of youth that you can, but also shed some of youth’s self­ish­ness and self-​centeredness.

What do you hope for Youth@Heart?

Keep mov­ing. Keep learn­ing. Keep pos­i­tive. A con­tin­ued infu­sion of new, younger musi­cians, direc­tors and sup­port staff to work with the cho­rus of elders.

What’s next for you after the “End of the Road”?

I have no plans to cre­ate a new work with Young@Heart. “End of the Road” com­pletes the Road Trilogy. I would be inter­ested in direct­ing an epi­logue taken from the var­i­ous music we used in the road shows, Heaven/​Nowhere/​End.

Any­thing to add?

The show is for all ages. Come have a good time how­ever “young” or “old” you are.



A US theatre and concert group of seniors aged 73 to 89 takes to the stage during Singapore Arts Festival, supported by a founder who has been with them for 30 years.

 

BY: Eleanor Yap

 

At this year’s Singapore Arts Festival, stereotypes will be broken. A US theatre and concert group of golden agers from 73 to 89 called Young@Heart will be taking the stage and belting out songs by legendary bands and iconic musicians like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Velvet Underground, Bon Jovi, Blondie and Bob Dylan. The group will be on stage for its production called “End of the Road” from May 23 to 26 at the SOTA Drama Theatre.

Agelessonline talks to the group’s founder, Bob Cilman, 59, (left) about why he started the group (where he is paid), what he has learned about his ageing and why such a group is so important to its cast members:

 

What made you and Judith Sharpe start Young@Heart in 1982?

I met her at a show I was producing. She came up to me and introduced herself. She offered her services to play the piano at a sing-along. I worked at a meal site for low-income elders where we served meals for US$0.75 (approximately S$0.94) to people over 60. A sing-along seemed like a good idea to break up the routine.

 

You were then 29 and Judith?

I think, over 60.

 

You have also gotten older with the group – what have you learned from the group about ageing and about yourself?

There’s no stopping it. I’m not sure I’m ageing as well as many of the people who have been in the group. Maybe when I get to retire from my day job as director of the Northampton Arts Council, I could find an equally enjoyable activity as Young@Heart.

 

You have seen a lot through the 30 years including a number of the seniors’ passing. That must be very hard. What are your thoughts on this and what makes you keep doing it over and over again?

There’s no avoiding this either. Each passing is different. Some members are ready to go, some aren’t. I’ve always been impressed that people keep coming to our group. I’m never bored of the challenges of new people and new songs. When I do get bored, I will stop but the group won’t.

 

Can you share two memorable cast members including Anna Main? How many initial cast members did you have besides Anna?

The group has always been around 25 people, although lately we have many more than that attending rehearsals. People are living longer, although two of our original members, Anna Main and Diamond Lillian Aubrey, lived to 100 and 96 respectively. They were both from the World War I generation – the not-quite-ready-to-be-the-greatest-generation – generation.

I adored the early pioneers of Young@Heart. They were wacky. They had the funniest expressions and they didn’t care very much about where the group was going. No self-importance. Some of the most interesting work came out of the early days.

 

Young@Heart chorus in "End of the Road".

You have had a number of productions with Roy Faudree’s group, No Theater. Can you explain your collaboration with them?

No Theater wasn’t a senior group when I first met them and we started working together back in 1983. We’ve all become much older. They create experimental theatre, sometimes they do that with us, but they do loads of other work as well without us.

Young@Heart also doesn’t only do theatre, we also have concert shows. (They both are all music. The theatre shows are staged with costumes and sets while the concerts are just stand and deliver.)

No Theater was involved in our first staged production called “Stompin’ at the Salvo” in 1983. We collaborated again on a large theatre piece in our community called “Louis Lou I: A Revolting Musical”. It was a retelling of the French Revolution set in Las Vegas using the songs of Sinatra.

In 1997, we started touring our collaborative roadshows. “Road to Heaven” ran from 1997 to 2004. It was set in a surrealistic nursing home and used many songs we had developed in earlier shows. “Road to Nowhere” ran from 2004 to 2007 and was performed on a set that resembled our rehearsal space in a community centre. The show was about working past your retirement years. “End of the Road” was first performed in 2009 and was created by No Theater to be performed by Young@Heart. Storylines evolve through the lyrics of the songs and the picture that is created on stage is by the directors of No Theater, Roy Faudree and Sheena See.

 

How many live shows have you had since you started?

Hundreds, easily.

 

How does it work – you have a new live show every year?

No. We run our theatre shows and concert shows for many years. In the old days, we did a new theatre collaboration almost every year with groups (such as break dancers, gay men’s chorus, Cambodian singers and dancers, Latino youth group, gospel chorus, college a capella groups and others) in our town. We stopped doing that in 1995 because we started touring in Europe twice a year with No Theater.

 

The Young@Heart chorus.

How many cast members do you currently have?

There are about 37 people coming to rehearsal. We have around 23 cast members for the theatre work and 29 members for the concerts. That’s just the elders and not the band.

 

And what about the schedule they keep – is a show once a month?

It varies. After Singapore, we have a show in Hartford, Connecticut (June). Then we tour to Colorado (August), then Japan (September), then Boston and Cape Cod, and after that some local shows (October). We’re setting up shows in Maine, New England; England; Holland and possibly Norway for 2013.

 

You mentioned you are breaking stereotypes, what stereotypes are those?

Typically older people are use to being entertained, not being the entertainers. This really plays out in an interesting way for the group. In America, venues pride themselves in being accessible. But that often means their house has been updated so the audience has a much easier time getting in and out. Their backstage, on the other hand, can be a nightmare. They didn’t see us coming and they never figured that the stage needed to be made accessible.

 

I guess that means you have updated a number of stages at home! Is this scenario playing out overseas too that you noticed?

The stage we use at home is manageable, although not exactly accessible. The best theatres we have found for performers backstage were in Japan.

 

How well-received are you overseas and at home in the US?

Very well. It’s different everywhere we go, but it’s always well-received.

 

With having a cast from the ages of 73 to 89, doesn’t that lend itself to some challenges?

You just need to come along on a tour. Our concerns are very different than most travelling arts organisations. Safety and health are our major concerns. The cast has, over the years, learned to travel very well. The first time we travelled, it was such a scary proposition. Everything went fine, but we were nervous about this new kind of travel. We actually brought a doctor with us and he was the only one who got sick!

Because we have done it so many times now, we have developed a certain protocol for travel. That being said, we can never let our guard down.

 

Who is the oldest and youngest in the group?

Dora Morrow and Jean Florio are the oldest at 90, while Eileen Litke is the youngest at 73.

 

Have you ever had to cancel a show?

Only because of weather and only twice in our hometown.

 

What are also some benefits to having an older cast?

They show up early in the morning and rehearse. Typically, it is two hours, twice a week. For the most part, they really want to be there. They aren’t individuals looking for their big break.

 

When a new cast member joins in, what initiation do they go through?

We have new people sing for the group the first time they show up. It takes a long time to figure out whether there is a good fit. It’s a tricky one and we struggle with this a lot.

 

What happens if they can sing, but they can’t act?

We’ve had that and it can work out well. But it’s not acting in the traditional sense. It’s more about being interesting on stage and not demanding a lot of attention.

 

How do you get new cast members?

Almost always they just walk in the door. We did encourage one member we saw first at the post office. I think it was her long flowing white hair that caught our administrator’s eye. 

 

Why do the elders join your group?

There are many reasons. It’s a chance for them to do something in their retirement that they may have wanted to do as a career. Some enjoy the challenging work. It’s all over the map. I’m sure they would all tell you that they have benefitted by being in the group.

 

Young@Heart in concert.

You already have a documentary and a CD and I see with this year being your 30th anniversary, you have new T-shirts. What else are you planning?

We are doing three shows in our hometown to celebrate the 30th and we are planning an exhibit at the local library of photos, costumes, banners, posters, etc. We are also putting out a new CD and a tour book for the concert shows.

 

Are you the only theatre group in the US for seniors?

No.

 

Have you considered having branches of Young@Heart in other big locales in the US?

No.

 

Some comments from cast members:

Shirley Stevens, 77 with two children ­– “Why do I enjoy it so much? Because we bring so much joy to so many people it’s unbelievable and that in turn brings me great joy. The rehearsals are so much fun even though we work hard. I would never miss one of them. Our director is the best in the world; without Bob we would not exist. In the production, at one point I am in a World War I nurse’s cape. The whole thing is a karaoke in a nightclub. I sing “Trouble” after the take the cape off and I make my entrance to the song “Only The Strong Survive”.”

Dora Morrow, 90, with 15 children and a grandmother, great-grandmother and great, great-grandmother of a total of 58 grandchildren – “I joined Young@Heart chorus shortly after the passing of my husband Lewis, which caused a void in my life and a little bit of loneliness. With a little bit of edging on from my son-in-law, Bill Arnold who is the drummer in the Young@Heart band, he brought me to the chorus’s rehearsal one day just so that I could get out of the house and meet some other fellow peers. Needless to say, here I am 10 years later singing and dancing with the group. Yes, on that very first day of rehearsal, I no longer was a visitor, I became a member.”

 

(** PHOTO CREDITS: Bob Cilman photo by Jeff Derose; Young@Heart chorus in “End of the Road” by Hugo Glendenning (also pic on next page); Young@Heart Chorus by Jodi Nicholas; and Young@Heart in concert by Yuka Yumaji (also pic on next page)) 

 


See more on Young@Heart in an interview with Roy Faudree on the next page.

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2 Comments

  1. Vanessa Keng says:

    Hey Eleanor, great job with this article! I was so excited when I heard that they’ll be performing at the Singapore Arts Festival :)

    • agelessadmin agelessadmin says:

      Thank you, Vanessa. Yeah, I was overjoyed when I heard about them from NAC and I wanted to do a story about them. They really are a wonderful example that age is just a number :)

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