Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Activities of Daily Living
When her Medicare card arrives with a special old-age pensioner invisibility cloak, one woman decides to fight back. Veteran film, television and stage actor Joanna Lipari writes and performs these funny and poignant vignettes, incorporating innovative, top-drawer animation to weave together the threads of a life well lived. A life overflowing with triumphs, mistakes, heartaches, regrets and hopes in equal measure... and hardly invisible.
Hi Dr. Joanna thank you for talking to The New Current, how has it felt bringing Activities of Daily Living to Edinburgh Fringe after everything that has happened?
I was supposed to come in 2020, and well, you know…Covid. Then again in 2021, the delta variant stopped Americans from coming. So here I am…the third time is the charm and I AM LOVING IT. And yes, I am shouting. I absolutely am loving being a part of this Festival.
This is also you EdFringe Debut, what has this experience been like for you?
Yes, I am a 73-year-old Fringe “first-timer” and damn proud of it! I never could come to the Fringe earlier in my career because August was always a busy tv time for me. And I didn’t have a show to bring. But now I’m here…and being here, performing here, seeing other shows here, walking around the city here, well, my oh my…GLORIOUS…and yes, again I’m shouting! Talk about checking off a dream on your “bucket list.” This is one of the experiences I will treasure most in my life. The Scottish people are a friendly, no-nonsense bunch and I’m delighted to have met so many local people and then others from all over the world.
The audience reaction to Activities of Daily Living has been amazing with Rosa calling it “a must see” and Ann Bronston saying “Lipari is fierce, funny and a no holds bar performer.” What has it meant to you to get this type of reaction?
A little overwhelming! But it feels fantastic! After every show, I ask my audience to consider leaving an audience review but never dreamed that they would and would be so complimentary. I am thrilled and humble. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be an actor. And I promise to work each day to perform the show to my fullest abilities. I am so grateful.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Activities of Daily Living came about?
Initially, it came about as a promise to my daughter to preserve the life stories I would tell her. I was 47, when I adopted my daughter at birth. And as an older mom, you’re aware that you need to make sure you leave a legacy for your child. I am now 73 and she’s almost 26. And so, I started writing down these stories.
Did you have any apprehensions about creating a show that draws from you personal life?
Actually, no. I thought my experiences in life were not unique, but at times, entertaining. And my daughter so loved my life stories that I thought others would also. I believe very strongly that each person has the opportunity to be the “hero” in their own life. It’s kind of a forced choice…you can be the hero and if not, then you are the victim. Life victimises all of us, but it’s how we rise to the challenge. Take films for example. No one will go and see a movie about a victim. No, the main character may be victimised…he/she may be knocked down, but ultimately, in the film, they get up and fight for what’s right…the love partner, the end of an injustice, whatever. No one goes to see a film about a victim but will see a film about someone who becomes a hero.
I am the hero in my own life. That does not mean that I do only heroic things. In fact, one story in particular, “The Black Umbrella” shows how fallible I am. It’s a brutally honest story, and one that I am proud to have in the show.
How soon the writing processes did you realise you wanted to include animation?
I was concerned that folks wouldn’t really be interested in a show where I was just describing stuff. I mean, I am not a celebrity and I wanted to find a way to really bring the audience in. And sure, I could use photos, but that’s so stagnant. And that’s when I thought about animation. Oh my, that was a huge decision. But once I thought about it, I knew it was right. I set about looking for an animator…and after much, consultation, and research, I found the very talented, young Canadian animator, Anna Bron. She got the show immediately and we worked for the next year developing the animation.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced bringing this production to the Fringe?
Not being known. Oh, there have been the occasional tech mishaps, but actually, not being know by the public has been the most difficult barrier. I mean there are thousands of shows here. And worthy shows. And shows similar in theme to mine. And just getting noticed, well, that is tough. And expensive. It’s bloody expensive to bring a show here, between the venue cost, advertising cost, renting a flat…it’s all a big investment. But I didn’t come here to make money. I came here to do my work…my art.
Do you think it is important for theatre makers to continue to push the boundaries of the theatre and stories they want to tell?
Yes, and no. I sometimes find that theatres just “push boundaries” for shock value, rather than true content value. Something becomes politically popular and suddenly everyone is doing a show about it, and we are inundated. While pushing boundaries…expanding content and sensibility is always important for theatre to progress, I also feel it’s important to re-visit the classics and the important traditions of dramatic writing. But most importantly, I think theatre makers should be working on material that will tell the truth about life, that will enhance a audience’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.
What have been some of the most valuable lessons you have discovered about yourself throughout this creative experience?
To have fun. Really, that simple. Acting and writing are joyful endeavours. And in theatre anything can happen during a performance – tech doesn’t work, a baby is crying, etc. It’s important to embrace it all and have fun and think on your feet and most importantly, connect with your audience. You are all in it together – sharing the experience. I love audiences – each one is different. It is so much fun, and so I just relax and go with the delight of it.
Where did your passion for theatre and acting come from?
It’s been there since I was a little girl. I guess it started when I say the original TV broadcast of PETER PAN with Mary Martin on March 7th, 1955. I wasn’t yet 6 years old. I was entranced watching that show. And then and there, I decided I would be an actor. And as I grew up, I acted in many school plays. And I read about acting. And my desire to be a professional just increased every day, until I went to study with the amazing teacher, Sanford Meisner at The Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York.
As well as having a degree in English Literature you have a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, how much has your background and experience in psychology helped you in the writing of Activities of Daily Living?
They helped a lot. Being an actor, I have always been addicted to understanding human behaviour. Which is why I studied English Literature in college. And then, when my daughter was little, so much of filming was on location and I just felt I couldn’t be without her that much, so that’s when I went to get my doctorate in Psychology. And it was fascinating to now understand the field of human behaviour from a scientific point of view.
I did several tours in Geriatric Psychology. Now, when you see a patient, you have to administer the ADL assessment and other mental orientation tests to ensure that the patient doesn’t have some type of cognitive slippage that might put themselves in danger. You can’t just guess – you have to give the assessment and chart the results. But so often it was uncomfortable asking a perfectly lucid 80-year-old if they knew who they were, or where they were. It felt like such an insult. Yes, it was necessary as part of an evaluation, but well –
Patients at UCLA in my pain clinic would tell me about how they felt disrespected and discounted and ignored. Invisible was the word I heard so often. And that’s what started me thinking about growing older and what that means.
"...the failures as well as the triumphs, and promise yourself that you will savour each day bestowed on you…even when the going gets tough."
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?
To enjoy it all. Do your best. Endeavour to keep improving. And be grateful whenever you have the opportunity to perform!
Is there any advice or tips, or even suggestions you would offer anyone that can inspire them to live their lives to the fullest?
Choose life! Always choose life!
In our daily lives, when faced with a daunting situation, maybe even one that makes you a victim, ask yourself what can I do, how can I think, what can I understand to turn myself from victim to hero? The answer will help you find new joy, new resolve, new energy, and a fuller life meaning.
I mean let’s face it: In the “Game of Life”, no one comes out of it alive! So, why not really relish the journey – the failures as well as the triumphs, and promise yourself that you will savour each day bestowed on you…even when the going gets tough.
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Activities of Daily Living?
Just what I said above. To savour life in all its complexities.
And also, to not discount the elderly folks we encounter in our journeys. An elderly person was once a young person. They should not be invisible. They should be seen for the full live that was and is lived.
Living fully never stops until the end. And living fully is best revenge. I know!