Tony, a resident at one of the Arts Colonies where I work, had written a play about a young writer interacting with a group of seniors who thought of themselves as nobodies. He entered it into a competition I arranged, and although it made the final cut, it did not win the best of plays and the coveted spot for a reading by in a New Playwrights Festival. Tony is 87 and clear that he needed to make things happen soon. He wanted to see his play performed and so he appealed to me for my help.
I thought of a group of people who live at another site we serve. This group is very passionate and enthusiastic about the Readers Theatre that had been formed there. Most of them had not only never been on stage before, but if you had told them years ago that when they were seniors they would be acting, they would never have believed it.
For example, a few months ago I complimented Veronica on her performance as Narrator in a play. She opened her eyes wide and with great excitement asked “Do you think I was ok?” I genuinely praised her performance and she responded “I didn’t think I could ever in my whole life do anything like that. But Bruce (the Actor working with the group) said I could do it and they needed someone to take over the part at the last minute. The group was in a bind!” Veronica confided that until a couple of years ago she had lifelong speech impediment and could never speak to even a small group of people she knew well. “ And now here I am up on stage and I love it! It has always been my dream!”
I sent Tony’s play to the Readers Theatre group, they read it and decided in unison that they wanted to perform it. Tony hopped on the train to go meet them and discuss his vision for the play.The cast was thrilled that they had a real-life playwright to talk with; Tony was thrilled because they loved his work.
The night of the performance I walked into the theatre (a clubhouse with a black-box stage). The atmosphere was so charged with excitement you could almost see the current running through the waiting audience. Tony and his family had seats of honor, and he was beaming. His daughter told everyone she could how proud she felt. Audience lights went down, curtains parted and the cast in costume was seated on the stage. Veronica, no longer narrator, was in full costume and acting her part with verve and feeling.
I’d previously read the play and saw once again how vital it is to have living breathing actors bring the characters to life. The final curtain and the audience (which included Tony’s neighbors who had driven the 40 miles to support him) stood and cheered and applauded. The cast was jubilant. When we settled down, there was a Q & A with Tony and his collaborators. He told us he had only been writing about 10 or 12 years and we were all inspired and reassured by the knowledge that you can find a new creative outlet in your seventies.
Before I left, one of the cast came over to me and said “Thank you for bringing Tony to us”. Tony later sent me an email “ I am shaking and shaking and shaking my word tree – but the same words fall down. Thank you”. Wish I could express my thanks to them so eloquently.
Now that is job satisfaction beyond compare!