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Senior theater group forges friendships

THURSDAY, OCT. 15, 2009

Bob Nelson ( far right ) works with fellow cast members on stage as the Sage Players rehearse Monday October 12, 2009 for their upcoming show. CHRISTOPHER (SR / The Spokesman-Review)
Bob Nelson ( far right ) works with fellow cast members on stage as the Sage Players rehearse Monday October 12, 2009 for their upcoming show. CHRISTOPHER (SR / The Spokesman-Review)

Sage Players performances benefit extended learning

While entertaining audiences, theater has the power to illuminate life and relationships. But for the actors, it can also forge and strengthen relationships. At least that’s what it’s done for the community theater group the Sage Players.

The amateur theater group formed as an offshoot of a Readers’ Theatre class facilitated by Anne Selcoe through the Community Colleges of Spokane’s Institute of Extended Learning Senior Program. The class had so much fun with the play “Our Town” it decided to perform a stage reading of it last fall with the launch of the Sage Players.

This weekend the Sage Players will open a stage reading of “School for Scandal,” a classic comedy of bad manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, at Manito United Methodist Church on the South Hill.

A stage reading, said director Dave McCallum, includes blocking, sets and costumes, but the actors don’t have to memorize lines. They read them.

“Memory can be a problem,” said McCallum with a laugh, adding that the cast is mostly older than 55. He said it saves a lot of rehearsal time and makes the experience more accessible if actors keep scripts in hand. “We just try to make it fun.”

While fun is part of their mission statement, the Sage Players also aim to give back to programs serving seniors. Proceeds from the production will benefit the IEL scholarship fund and their host venue, Manito United Methodist.

“We are not only senior citizens. We do it for the benefit of senior citizen scholarships, so little old ladies alone, who don’t have $55 or $45 for tuition, can get out of the house and take a class,” said cast member Vicky McBride, 67, who plays Mrs. Candour.

The play, which was first performed in 1777, is still relevant in its witty take on relationships. “It looks at the way people talk behind each other’s backs, the polite games we play in society, and how people manipulate each other in relationships,” said Selcoe. “Considering it was George Washington’s favorite play, it is remarkably apropos today.”

While the comedy pokes fun at the unseemly side of relationships, the Sage Players focus on the fun and supportive side.

“It is a gift to be associated with a supportive sense of community,” said Allen Eickemeyer, who plays Joseph Surface. He said acting “brought me out of my shell. It pushes me to learn more and interact with people better, instead of allowing me to withdraw or isolate myself.”

That’s also what McBride discovered. A retired schoolteacher, she said taking the IEL classes and then performing with the Sage Players has built her self esteem, in part because it is a safe environment to try new things. “There is no risk. They are all supportive. People don’t laugh or make fun of you. You’re enriching your life. You are not alone. The biggest thing for senior citizens is they feel alone.”

Though the group may be senior by the numbers, they hope their infectious fun stops some stereotypes while showcasing active aging.

“It is good to break down stereotypes about what it means to age in our society,” said Selcoe.

“Spokane has many talented writers and actors,” said Eickemeyer, gesturing to his fellow actors in a recent rehearsal. “All these people, you could see them in a retirement home, or see them on stage. If more people would take more classes and get involved, they’d find out they have things to offer.”

Paul Ruch, 72, who plays Crabtree, said taking the classes and performing keeps him young. “One of the things about aging is you fight it as best you can. Stay creative. Stay young as long as you can. It is pure joy. Every time you perform, you get better.”

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