In September of 2013, I was bored. I’d spent the past nine months killing at Words With Friends, but never writing a word.
A friend said, “Why don’t you do a reader’s theater class? It’s big in the elementary schools.”
“People are busy,” I said. “Kids do reader’s theater at school. Would such a simple thing attract anyone with a gajillion TV channels, the Internet, and cell phones to play with?”
She said, “Try seniors. They need some fun besides BINGO.”
So I dusted off my trusty laptop and adapted “A Christmas Carol” to a play format and peddled it to the local assisted living as a program to produce a forty-five-minute play every two months. To my surprise, the activities director accepted my offer. A retired teacher friend offered to help me wrangle the seniors. In her words: “Working with seniors is like working with kids. Or herding cats.”
Unsure about it all, I was amazed when eight octogenarians and nonagenarians showed up at the first class meeting. As we practiced, two ladies seemed pretty Alzheimer’sy. I gave them shorter parts.
My trusty helper sat by them and poked them when it was time to read. “You read only the yellow words, Mathilda.”
Mathilda would then read, “Tiny Tim: God Bless us, every one!” Bless her heart.
Jane would dither, “Where are we? Am I on the right page?” (She never was.)
But no matter. We enjoyed including them, and they sang well.
Once my earnest seniors started reading in their gravelly or high, thin voices, the play was like a glacier, barreling slowly, but with deceptive strength, towards its denouement.
I could barely squeeze in a note—“Speak louder? Clearer? Repeat that, please?”—between their inexorable lines.
Sitting all spiffily dressed with their walkers lined up to one side, their hands fiercely clutching the pages of the script, their glasses firmly in place, these beaky bulldozers pressed forward with determination and occasional giggles. If they messed up words or delivery or song tempo, they’d soldier on.
Can’t reach ninety without perseverance.
We started with scripts printed on both sides, stapled in the corner. This caused some confusion and arthritic flapping of pages until we went to booklet format. I always tailor the scripts to the vocabulary easiest for them to read aloud. At first, for every reprinting, I laboriously highlighted every part for every character in the 32-page scripts by hand. Now, my two-sided color printer and highlighting macro for Word do the job super fast.
Readers have come and gone (sometimes to heaven), but reader’s theater is still fun for everyone. I’ve stocked up on costume hats and feather boas for performances. We have a blast putting on the plays. And the need for 4500-5000 words of funny script (including songs and sound effects) every two months has gotten me back to daily writing. I’ve adapted six plays, written five original plays and published two old manuscripts since 2013.
Win, win. Thanks, seniors. It’s been fun.