‘Your old will dream dreams and your young will see visions’ (Joel 2:28)
We have become used to living in an age which gives preference to the young: the music, the fashion, the politics and the technology of young people dominate media which are run either by people who are young or who want to be seen as young. The visions of our youth – for example as they register this week for university courses – are hugely important. But we also need to stay connected with the dreams of those who are at the other end of life.
The arts world is especially prone to idolising the young, whether actors, musicians, artists or dancers. Their freshness and enthusiasm should certainly be encouraged. But they will also benefit from spending time with the legends who have trodden the path (or the boards) before them. This week I was honoured to say goodbye to one of South Africa’s great theatrical legends, Joan Brickhill. Her name may be unknown to many under the age of 40, and unfamiliar to people not from South Africa, but for a certain generation she epitomised the glamour and the success of South African theatre.
She was very nearly 90 when she died and, given that her first professional engagement was at the age of 2, that means that she had rather a lot of theatrical experience to share. Opening theatres, closing theatres (‘His Majesty’s’ in downtown Johannesburg), bringing in big international shows (‘Hello Dolly’ and ‘Annie’) and creating big local shows (‘Follies’), taking South African talent to London and Broadway, pioneering ‘mixed race’ casts and audiences, showcasing African talent (‘KwaZulu’), hosting international film and theatre stars in her elegant Johannesburg garden. And even beyond the arts world, being one of the first celebrities in South Africa to espouse the cause of people affected by AIDS. In this she mirrored her contemporary Elizabeth Taylor and I recall informing Joan of Taylor’s death a few years ago aged a mere 79. Even in her fragile state, Joan raised an eyebrow as if to say: “Well, I outlived her then!”
We must honour our elders but also learn from them. And hope that they are willing to pass on what they have learnt. Joan certainly was. Part of her legacy was the number of actors and performers who across the decades have Joan to thank for their start ‘in the business’. Even a few years ago, I remember her presenting a Naledi award named after her to a rising musical theatre star a quarter of her age. I could only admire the patience with which she listened to him and advised him.
Whether your field is arts or religion or business or medicine or even technology, there are lessons to be passed across the years. So this week try and spend time with someone from a different generation. If you are young, then share your vision with someone older and be open to be inspired by their dreams. If you are older, listen to the visions of those who are young and then inspire them with the dreams you have enjoyed. If you are in the middle then you can do both! And all will benefit.