Photos by Judy S. Blackstock (except where noted)
When the Silver Stage Players were invited to help create a drama club at a senior center in Athens, TN, they were told, “Seniors can’t memorize lines.”
Silver Stage actress and playwright Jeanette Stevens says, “The director of this facility was convinced her seniors could not learn.” Actress Wanda Huttner says, “We don’t think memorizing lines is easy. It’s a lot of work. Some people don’t want to put the work into it.” Jeanette’s husband, Charlie Stevens, a badass Vietnam Veteran, and presently the only male in the group, says, “We didn’t go back after that first meeting. Our goal is to show what seniors really can do. We have adopted Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” as our theme song.”
Since its creation 6 years ago, The Silver Stage Players have performed 86 shows. They have also performed at senior theatre festivals in New Orleans, Asheville, and Baltimore. Charlie says, “We performed scenes from Hamlet to a standing room only crowd at Harrah’s in New Orleans. They couldn’t believe we were doing Shakespeare!”
The Players meet once a week at the John T. O’Connor Senior Center, located between Cansler Park and the YMCA in East Knoxville. Participants must be age 50 or older to participate in the Senior Center’s activities.No acting experience is required to join the drama group. Silver Stage Players is and education/outreach project of the Wild Thyme Players. Several of the senior actors have crossed over to Wild Thyme’s productions, like Antigone. Some of the seniors have also completed Wild Thyme’s classes on stage combat and sword fighting.
Wild Thyme’s founding director Brandon Slocum created the Silver Stage Players and authored several plays for mature actors regarding topics of interest to seniors, including post-retirement depression and coping with the death of a spouse.
Jeanette Stevens became Brandon’s senior playwright apprentice, and she penned the popular Elder Speak, a short play about mid-life age discrimination and baby talk aimed at elderly patients. When the troupe performed Elder Speak at a health care professionals’ conference, several audience members came forward after the show and admitted they were unaware of the condescending way they were relating to older patients.
The Silver Stage Players recently performed Jeanette’s lighthearted Christmas play Who You Gonna Call? at the John T. O’Connor auditorium. This performance was the first in a fundraising campaign to help send the Silver Stage Players to a senior theatre festival in Atlantic City in June 2014.
Future projects include a 4-week writing and interview workshop beginning in January.
In March, at Concord Methodist Church, the Silver Stage Players will perform a short play about an adult daycare center. There will also be some musical performances, and a parody of Little Red Riding Hood. While topics addressing senior concerns can be sad, these original plays are infused with humor.
Former director Brandon Slocum’s brother, Greg Daughtry of Tuscarora Films, was so impressed with the Silver Stage Players he began filming a documentary about the troupe. Fire in the Furnace is still in production.
For more information about The Silver Stage Players, please contact Carolyn Corley at 865.325.9877.
For more information about the John T. O’Connor Senior Center, please call 865-523-1135.
If you like this article, you might also enjoy Silver Sneakers.
© Debra Dylan, 2013.