Why This Fictional Web Series Strikes a Nerve
A Broadway performer uses her comic chops to take on ageism
Stacia Fernandez doesn't need to fantasize about choosing a superpower because she already has one: invisibility. The actress and writer experiences it every time she goes into a meeting with show biz executives.
"My writing partner, Jacob (Pinion) and I wrote a musical and pitched it recently. I am some years older than him," says Fernandez, who doesn't reveal her age but jokes that she can play anything from 45 to death.
"I find that, even if we are pitching to a person my age, they have a tendency to look past middle-aged me and right at the younger person in the room, Jacob, as if his brain works faster and he will have the answers they are looking for."
That attitude is common in the entertainment industry, where, Fernandez jokes, "Once you pass the age of 40, all actresses are 65."
In response, she and Pinion, who perform in Broadway's Mamma Mia together, created the web series, Middle (St)age. In a series of comic monologues, Fernandez plays an actress named Marina who grapples with many of the issues Fernandez does.
"We're having a ball and it's like therapy," says Fernandez. "Actually, I prefer this (to therapy). I have three older sisters and we're all battling these things and trying to find a way through this period of life that doesn't feel like it has a lot of value placed on it sometimes."
Showing The Value Of Age
Fernandez hopes that Middle (St)age — one of several shows, many by Broadway-based performers, at online network Stage 17 — can show the value of lives that actually have been lived.
"This is about reaching out to people who don't have a voice in our culture. There are a whole lot of us who are 40, 45, 50 and are getting pushed aside,” Fernandez says. “And I'm like the little Who in Horton Hears a Who, yelling, 'We are here! We are here! We are here!'"
That "we" is important. Maybe the show will help folks who are in the same boat feel less alone, Fernandez says.
"The struggle Marina is going through and her quirky optimism as she attacks trying to stay visible in a world that is ageist — I hope it's going to make people feel better," says Fernandez.
Comic Video Diary Enries
Episodes of Middle (St)age — which can be viewed here — are like brief video diary entries, often dealing with Marina's efforts to get work or to grapple with technology she thinks she ought to figure out. This is not unfamiliar territory for Fernandez, either.
(MORE: The True Power of Oldness)
"I'm taking classes all the time so I know what the kids know: Tweetdeck and Instagram, anything I can download on my iPhone and then have no idea what it's for," says Fernandez. "It does help, though, that, on Mamma Mia, I'm working with 22-year-olds because I hear about things that way. I still feel archaic but I'm lucky I have young friends who aren't."
Fortunately for Fernandez, she has resources that scattered Marina can't seem to access. She's fond of the notion that we keep living if we keep learning (organic gardening is a new passion and she's trying to figure out a way to raise chickens in Fort Lee, N.J.). She is mastering technology, one tweet at a time. And, even though she's not famous, she is proud to have been a working actor for the last 26 years (one of her most visible recent credits was as a mom on the third season of Homeland).
Fernandez has even figured out some techniques for dealing with executives who are inclined to look right past her, techniques that could work in non-show-biz settings, as well: "I have a tendency to talk a little louder and make sure I'm really smart in the first five minutes. If I say something that catches their ear in the very beginning, I find that I can win that battle. And I always bring a notebook. People are always bringing their iPads but if I come in with a pencil and paper and take notes, they seem to like that."
Why You Shouldn’t Wait
Fernandez's main message to her fellow Middle (St)agers is not to sit back and wait politely for their turn.
"I just say to my compadrés at this age, 'Don't wait,'" advises Fernandez. "If there's something you love or something you want, do it, because fear is useless unless you're literally protecting yourself from pumas and leopards. That, really, is what Marina is trying to do: Embrace this place where she finds herself, even if she makes some mistakes along the way."
It's that attitude that is helping Fernandez feel good about middle age in an industry that sometimes acts like she's the Invisible Woman.
"I don't want to sound maudlin, so make me sound not-maudlin, but I love the fact that I'm in the middle," says Fernandez. "If I'm in the middle then there are still opportunities to have a good time."
Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country.