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San Diego women anything but invisible in ‘Far Side of Fifty’

The myth that age has anything to do with vibrancy, courage and ability is the first of many to be dispelled by the cast of 14 women, not one of them younger than 58 and a couple getting close to 90.

“Older women are invisible in this country, except for ads for Fosimax and Depends,” said Lonnie Hewitt, writer and producer of the show, who said her own aging was part of the inspiration for the show. “One of the things that happened was I got older. And, suddenly, I noticed that if you wanted anyone to even see you, you really have to put your face in front of their face. You get invisible, especially if you’re a woman.”

Hewitt heard similar observations from others. She also knew, through her work as a writing teacher, that many of these same women had amazing, inspiring stories to share, if only people would listen.

People aren’t just listening, they are paying to hear the wit and wisdom relayed from those on the far side of 50 years old. One year after the premier, the show is drawing sell-out crowds.

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The show will be performed next Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. The script is a compilation of stories, memoirs and remembrances written by the same women who perform them.

After toying with the idea of writing her own one-woman show about life after 50 and sharing thoughts with a friend about finding a way for older women to be heard, Hewitt began formulating ideas for the show. In April 2005, she invited some of her former students, friends and acquaintances to a special writing workshop at her home. She guided the women through a series of prompts designed to draw out their stories about life and growing older.

When she proposed the idea for the show, she was pleased and surprised when all 14 attendees agreed to participate.

“I did a three-hour workshop, and what came out at the end was so amazing,” she said. “We don’t talk about what everyone else has already talked about. I wanted us to talk about some of the things people don’t talk about. I’m tired of all this, ‘Oh, isn’t this special, the golden years.’ We talk about our past lives as they’re germane to our present lives.”

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Another facet of the show’s personality that was vitally important to Hewitt was that it be fun and inviting. She wanted to create a shared experience with the audience. She also wanted to communicate the sense of acceptance that many of the shows’ writers said they felt as they chalked up the birthdays.

“There are many things that happen in this life, that happen to you, and you can’t control it,” Hewitt said. “How are you going to make it? How are you going to be happy? What I see in these older people is a level of acceptance. That whatever it is, life is OK. It’s still worth living.”

Hewitt constructed the show with bits and pieces from the women’s written stories, comparing the process to that of putting together a patchwork coverlet.

“It was like quilting,” she said. “A little bit of each of us speaks to the others.”

Incorporated into the show are songs written by Hewitt. After the performance, a question-and-answer session will take place. Following that, the actors spend some time mingling with the audience.

Cast members include La Jolla residents Mickey Burstein and Eileen Saveriano, along with Sallie Bayless, JoAnne Cobb, Sally Dickey, Linda Diller, Loretta Haas, June Gottleib, Lonnie Hewitt, Trina Kaplan, Bettie King, Ruth Klampert, Audrea Liszt and Diane Shea. They range in age from 58 to 88.

The show has been so successful that a postcard with words of wisdom has been created, they’ve recorded a DVD, and there has been some talk of performances outside of San Diego.

“Tales From the Far Side of Fifty” will be performed Sunday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m. at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center at 4126 Executive Drive. General admission tickets are $25, with proceeds to benefit the Foundation for Women.

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To purchase tickets, call the box office at (858)362-1348 or go online to www.lfjcc.org.