Published: Sep 09, 2008 12:47 PM
Modified: Sep 09, 2008 12:47 PM
CARRBORO -- Charles Stern recalls a woman telling him she was interested in auditioning for the new midday readers theater series he had organized, but she was reluctant for fear of being turned down.
"I said, 'Why not come in and give a shot?'" Stern said. "So she did, and she did really well. When I told her we'd like to welcome her to join the group and be in a play this fall, she started to tear up. She said, 'I've always wanted to be on stage, but the closest I ever got was taking tickets.'"
She'll have her chance now, as the new "Readers Theatre at Lunch" series gets under way at The ArtsCenter.
The series is intended to offer an affordable, accessible theater experience for older adults, both as audience members and participants. Admission is $5, and the performances are held during the daytime, when it's easier for many seniors to attend.
The ArtsCenter and OdysseyStage -- a theater company that began several years ago at the Chapel Hill Senior Center -- are teaming up to present the series. OdysseyStage is producing the shows, and The ArtsCenter is hosting them.
Shows will be held the second and third Tuesday and Wednesday of each month at The ArtsCenter at 300-G East Main Street in Carrboro. Actors will present the play-reading at 12:30, but audiences are encouraged to come an hour early and bring a lunch. The idea is to eat and socialize, then watch the play, and afterward participate in a brief discussion with the actors about the issues raised in the piece.
"Some people have never been to the theater," said Stern, 88, who collaborated with John Paul Middlesworth of OdysseyStage to bring the series to life. "Some can't afford it, or have trouble getting out to see shows at night. This is an opportunity for socializing and for enjoying theater -- and it won't cost you $35 a ticket.
"The rationale for doing it at lunchtime, and encouraging people to bring a lunch, is that you cannot really know another person until you break bread with them."
Readers Theatre at Lunch opened Tuesday with Patrick Gaffney's award-winning "Gifts from the Heart," a wistful look at a man and a woman and the kiss that still haunts them after 30 years. Directed by Middlesworth, the show will have a second performance today, and will be also be presented Sept. 16 and 17.
The October series -- on Oct. 14, 15, 21 and 22 -- will feature a double bill: "Off to Summer" by Tira Palmquist and "The Committee" by Charles Alverson.
"Off to Summer" was one of the play in The ArtsCenter's 10 by 10 in the Triangle festival of short plays. It explores the confrontation between a father and his daughter as they deal with his transition into an assisted living center.
"The Committee," which presents a self-appointed committee grilling a newcomer to a retirement community, is the most light-hearted of the works in the first season.
In November the series will present "Mrs. Palsgraf's Dream Team" by Henry W. Kimmel, which examines a legal case from 1924 in which a cleaning lady sued a railroad company for an accidental injury.
"We're interested in plays that address the concerns of older Americans, because that's largely the audience we expect to see," Middlesworth said. "We figure our audiences will be primarily retirees."
Auditions earlier this summer resulted in a company of 12 performers. Some have had professional acting experience, others have appeared in community theater, and some arrived with little or no previous stage time.
The casts include Philip Kraysler, Carol Oleson, Jeanne Hillson, Harvey Sage, Shirley Summa Brazda, Liza Farmer, Mary Ann Freedman, Richard Nystrom, Carla Shuford, Wyatt Geist, Joyce Weiser and Herbert Wolff.
Stern and Middlesworth said they may add additional shows or hold further auditions of demand warrants.
"One thing I want people to realize is that readers theater is not a lesser sort of thing than full-blown theater," Stern said. "Readers theater is the essence of full-blown theater."
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