Lights, Camera, Action! By Christine A. Holliday
Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” to describe the human race as we go through life. Excited to partake in local community performance roles, many area seniors enjoy being a part of theatrical productions.
The Toledo area has nearly two dozen community theater groups, many of them decades old, with casts, crews, and support staff made up of community volunteers. Some of the oldest groups (like the Village Players and the Toledo Repertoire Theatre) have their own buildings, while others (including the Oregon Community Theatre, the Genoa Civic Theatre and Literary Society) partner with local schools, churches, or civic groups, using their gymnasiums or auditoriums for performances.
Finding a role in the community
The challenge is to select well-known shows and then remain faithful to the original stories, with new twists to attract audiences.
Those involved see their participation as a labor of love and an opportunity to do something creative and entertaining. Susan McCann, a board member at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, is a typical senior participant, she explains, “I am a social creature, so I love giving three months of my life to a production. The players and the crew become almost like family during that period, comprised of people of all ages.”
McCann has worked in a variety of roles, from serving on tech crews (“so much fun”) to prop master to actor, to her most recent position as Stage Manager for the Rep’s A Chorus Line (which ran June 3-19, 2016). Her age is not an issue, “The younger people don’t think of me as older— maybe just more experienced. I’m just one member of the company.”
Reed Steele is the President of the Oregon Community Theatre, which offers a summer workshop program for kids. “We collaborate with the Oregon City Schools,” he notes, ‘and bring culture and the arts to our community. Without culture, arts and music, a community is just a place to live. We find that those working on a show quickly become like family, all dedicated to doing their best to present great entertainment.”
Changing with the scenes and seasons
The Waterville Playshop has presented shows since 1951. Diana Waugh, one of several senior volunteers, admits she loves being on stage. “I feed off the response of the audience. There is something about immediate feedback that keeps me coming back. I’ve always enjoyed playing “older” roles, but not because I am old. Now, I can limp for real!”
She notes, “Every performance, we get another chance to be creative and entertain people. The whole experience is a lot of fun, and a great way to learn about people.”
Senior citizens make up a large portion of the volunteer base at the Village Players. PR Director, Chris Jagodzinski, sees that seniors find working on the shows as a way of “giving back” to their communities, as well as a way to make new friends, while socializing with old ones. “Groups who worked on a show 20 years ago still get together to have dinner on a regular basis. They still have the feeling of belonging. Others have had the same volunteer jobs for decades.”
His age gave Chuck Kiskadden, 63, some pause when he was cast as Karl the Giant in Big Fish, produced by the Perrysburg Musical Theatre. “When I heard I had to perform on stilts, I wondered if I could do the part. The director assured me that I could, so I decided to challenge myself. I am rehearsing in full pads and a helmet until I get used to the stilts— I am having a blast!”
Helping out behind the scenes
Gary Miller says the Perrysburg Musical Theatre keeps him young, echoing the sentiments of many senior actors, set builders, and crew members. “The whole experience is fun and challenging,” he explains. “It is a great thing to work with people of all ages— especially the very talented, young actors. It is great to have community support, and have everyone view us as a great cultural activity.”
Despite the large number of local community theater, backers and participants have some worries about the future of this art form as the costs of producing a show continue to rise, forcing a rise in ticket prices, all while the number of other entertainment choices continue to increase. The Village Players’ Jagodzinski worries that economic conditions in the Toledo area have lead to a decrease in the number of people who can afford to see live theater. “A city like Toledo really needs to promote the arts for what it offers— culture, connectedness, and entertainment,” he insists. “We try to keep our tickets reasonably priced. At some shows we do outreach programs, like collecting food for local food banks. We want Toledoans to have a place to see subjects not shown on TV, and to provide opportunities to be on the stage or crew— an opportunity to be creative in front of friends and neighbors.”
Shakespeare, himself a big fan of community theater, wrote parts for many senior actors, including Gratiano’s observation about aging in The Merchant of Venice: “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” Local seniors enjoy earning wrinkles, on stage or behind the scenes, at local community theaters.
All of the theater groups mentioned here belong to the Ohio Community Theatre Association. Information, schedules, and OCTA-sponsored activities featuring local companies, can be found at ohiocommunitytheatre.org.
The Village Players | 419 472-6817 | thevillageplayers.org The Waterville Playshop | 419 823-7364 | watervilleplayshop.org The Perrysburg Musical Theatre| perrysburgmusicaltheatre.org The Toledo Repertoire Theatre | 419-243-9277 | toledorep.org The Oregon Community Theatre | 419 691-1398 | oregancommunitytheatre.org