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Posted by The Meadows at Shannondell on 04/18/2016

Shannondell Residents Enjoy a New Stage

Shannondell Residents Enjoy a New Stage

The stage lights dim as the sound of something heavy being dragged center stage is heard over a murmuring of voices and the occasional shuffle of a chair. The eyes of those seated in a circle start to adapt to the low light and the silhouette of their director and a lone wooden trunk come into focus.

Director Robb Hutter addresses his students, “Improvisation, even for the most highly trained actor, is a difficult task. But, it’s a great exercise for letting go of inhibitions, quickly translating a role and using life’s experiences to guide dialogue and your reactions to others in the same scene. And did I mention, it’s a lot of fun?”

As Robb pauses for a second, you sense the combination of excitement and fear from the students on stage. Some start to rock back and forth in their chairs. Several trade glances at each other. One who appears slightly older than his classmates has a huge smile on his face. His name is Marty, and this is the highlight of his week. Robb continues as the stage lights illuminate, “When I open this trunk lid, I want each of you to come select a single prop and return to your seat. I’ll start by pairing you with others in the class. I’ll give you a scene, give you each a role in the scene, give you a few seconds to think about it, then you’ll step to the center of our circle and, on my cue, you’ll improvise the scene. Ready?” Virtually everyone in the class is now leaning forward in their chairs, anxious to get their hands on the best hat, the most outrageous wig, the most colorful boa, the coolest cape or plastic sword.

What transpires next on stage might be taking place in any high school or college drama class, or amateur acting workshop. But this particular Actors’ Studio is taking place on the stage of the 500-seat Shannondell Performing Arts Theater ... and Marty is a spry 93-years old.

Marty isn’t alone in his excitement about and anticipation of acting class at Shannondell. What started out as just a handful of star-struck residents has now grown to a group of 40-plus, many of whom have never stepped on stage, much less honed acting techniques with a professional director.

Nancy, a longtime Shannondell resident, is but one, “I had never acted in my life before moving to Shannondell, and now I’m doing improvisation and auditioning for local theater productions. I’ve been chosen for roles in several shows, including my personal favorite The Music Man. It’s a lot of fun. More importantly, I think theater helps me maintain a sense of humor, which has a positive effect on my attitude.”

Says Robb, director of the Actors’ Studio at Shannondell, “While it’s true that older generations bring a certain resistance to exiting their comfort zone – say kissing as part of a scene – when they break through and become more self expressive on stage, they get so excited. As a director, you see the endorphins kick in ... you see how that makes these senior adults feel more alive.”

And that’s a good thing, experts say. Statistics have shown that seniors who participate in theater lead healthier lives. Acting offers cognitive, emotional and physiological benefits due to both the intellectual and social stimulation. 

Marty is living proof that it works. “All I can tell you is that I feel great. When I moved to Shannondell, I joined the King of Prussia Players (one of two community theater groups that call the Shannondell Performing Arts Theater home) and the Shannondell Actors’ Studio,” says Marty. He goes on, “We have a blast. I’ve been cast in Mack & Mabel, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum, Guys & Dolls and Oliver!. And I’m not just wallpaper. I’m singing and dancing stage front!”

Fellow Shannondell resident and acting classmate Doris agrees, “The last time I was on stage, I was at camp and maybe 15. So, when I approached the director about joining, I was a little apprehensive. (laughs) He cast me in the next show and I’ve never looked back.” She goes on, “Being part of this group has really helped me to feel integrated into this wonderful community we call Shannondell, and it’s also introduced me to delightful new friends.”

Says Robb proudly, “My Shannondell actors definitely enjoy class. They love the ability to express anger or passion that, offstage, they simply aren’t comfortable showing in public. And the camaraderie is addictive. Residents are always telling me that acting class is the one class they look forward to most, every week. Performing becomes secondary to the bonds and friendships that develop on stage.”

One of the most anticipated performances in the Shannondell Performing Arts Theater every season is the WSDL Good Times Radio Revue, an ongoing production of the Actors’ Studio. “It’s a fun show for the actors and the audience. Both get to relive the golden age of radio with comedic sketches, hit songs and vintage commercials from shows like George and Gracie, Baby Snooks, Father Knows Best and The Inner Sanctum,” states Robb.

If reliving the past while forging a new path forward sounds like a paradox to you, know that it’s a welcome script to this expanding group of Shannondell residents in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Each is enjoying an inspiring new stage in life –one in the spotlight at Shannondell.  Applause, applause!

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