In our quest to learn more about Senior Theatre programs in California community theatres, we discovered that while many of you wish you had a program for seniors in your area, there was very little already in place. You know the benefits of offering seniors a chance to participate in your theatre (beyond attending performances), but lack of resources and staff are common main reasons Senior Theatre programs don't currently exist. Check out the full results of the survey here.
Now it's time for solutions! The Senior Theatre Resource Center provides plays, books, materials, and workshops as part of its mission is to help older performers fulfill their theatrical dreams. Bonnie L. Vorenberg is the President of ArtAge Publications and is known as the 'Senior Theatre guru.' California Community Theatre had the opportunity (and privilege) of talking to Bonnie about easy and realistic ways YOUR community theatre can begin to implement a Senior Theatre program, even with limited resources. Get inspired to start a mini-program or class at your community theatre, and see the impact you can have on Senior Theatre participants, and the impact they can have on your theatre.
Some ideas of what you can offer your Senior Theatre participants:
Classes allow people to play, and invite little risk to your theatre's season or lineup; allow an introduction to numerous genres of theatre, such as improv, creative drama, etc.
Classes teach acting basics, such as projection.
Classes allow attendees to decide if theatre is 'their thing.'
Classes lets you try out activities and exercises.
Classes give a director a chance to build skills, especially if he/she has little experience working with seniors.
Classes can develop into performances.
Reader's Theatre gives attendees an idea of basic theatre, and of a production.
Reader's Theatre lets you try out materials.
Reader's Theatre gives a director a chance to build skills, especially if he/she has little experience working with seniors.
What is the value for your theatre and the participants to have Senior Theatre?
In Your Words (from a survey response): "Increased reach and viewership."
Including seniors in a program or classes, or giving them more opportunities to be involved in your community theatre can be a helpful marketing tool.
In Your Words (from a survey response): "Introducing seniors to our other programs."
Senior participation in community theatre helps connect generations of participants to newer ones.
In Your Words (from a survey response): "Self fulfillment, social interaction."
What's Needed to Start Including Seniors in A Program or Activity FOR Them:
Space where Seniors are willing and able to come (i.e.: YOUR community theatre). It must be inviting and accessible.
Time that works for them. Many community theatres are dark during the day; Seniors often prefer daytime hours for their activities. This can be a win-win, especially for those of you managing other activities in the evenings.
Parking which is accessible for seniors.
Core group of participants.
Stage or space to participate, which is not in conflict with any other performances or classes at your theatre.
Coffee pot or refreshments to help create a welcoming environment.
For performances, SHORT plays are needed, particularly for performances to be 'toured' in other Senior centers or for senior audiences. A one-hour performance time is recommended.
What It Costs to Produce Senior Theatre (Performance-Specific)
Royalties and cast copies
Binders/Notebooks (Reader's Theatre)
Portable Sound System (a sound system is vital, particularly for performing for Senior audiences. It's recommended to use your own system rather than rely on the one in the venue you go to, for consistency)
What It Costs to Host Senior Theatre Classes
Class space, possibly
How to Fund Senior Theatre When You Have No Funds For Senior Theatre AND No-Cost Senior Theatre Activities
Senior Theatre classes should have a registration or class fee. There is value in charging for something, even if it's modest.
Theatre appreciation activities can be no cost to the theatre (other than time). The theatre can offer backstage tours, costume/wig workshops, discussion or talk-backs on scripts and plays. The idea is to offer Senior Theatre participants active participation opportunities (not just sitting and listening), and a chance to do. This type of activity is valuable for brain fitness/stimulation for seniors.
Projects mentioned in this article may be fundable by local or larger grants or underwriting. Check with grant opportunities focused on seniors or aging, and be sure your project is focused on active participation (i.e.: Classes, performances, or an active theatre appreciation activity).
Senior Theatre is not and never should be an opportunity to 'get rich.' While it is suggested to require fees to participate, expectations should be managed in considering Senior Theatre endeavors to be 'money-makers.'
Who at your community theatre can assist in implementing a Senior Theatre program:
A theatre program can be part of an Education program. Consider integrating a Senior Theatre program (or classes) as you would or do for Youth Education.
Pay teachers to teach class.
We're excited to include Senior Theatre Resource Center as a new resource page on the site. Our page will link you to STRC's website, where you can find infinite information, connections and documents to guide you on your Senior Theatre journey and endeavors. STRC is a one-stop shop for your questions on funding, marketing, teaching, playwrighting, scripts, and directing.