When moving to a life plan community, few people would expect live theatre productions on site. Well, often unexpected things happen at Kendal at Oberlin.
It was just months after Kendal opened its doors in 1993 that a group of twelve residents gathered in a room for play reading. This was the beginning of a script that continues to this day…but has greatly expanded!
The group met monthly, and it grew in numbers. As a result, a committee was formed, including a chair. Committee members have some theatrical experience or a strong interest in play reading.
Retired physician and Play Readers Committee Chair, Jerry Berner, had a love of theatre, but no theatrical experience until he retired. After taking theatre classes and improvisation exercises at a community college, he was cast in community theatre productions. He’s been hooked on theatre ever since. He often takes the role of play reader director, and pours much of his seemingly boundless energy into this project.
The Play Readers eventually moved to the auditorium for play reading, where they had an audience exclusively of Kendal residents. It’s been more like a family play reading together. Cast members change with each production, giving anyone interested an opportunity for involvement.
The committee members read, review and critique many plays being considered for presentation. This can be a lengthy process. Upon agreement, the committee selects five or six plays for reading each calendar year. The plays include a mix of drama, mystery and comedy.
The director’s role includes editing the play and casting residents in character parts. Also responsible for props (a minimal number are used, but some are essential), the director and cast decide on costumes, which the cast members then provide for themselves.
Residents with experience in theatrical lighting and sound are also critical to the performances. After three rehearsals (the last being with audio-visual support) there is a Friday matinee and a Saturday evening performance.
“On Pleasant Pond,” an original play written by Kendal resident Don Parker, was given as part of Kendal’s 20th Anniversary celebration. The play was based on letters written by a long-time resident of Pleasant Ponds to her niece about life in that retirement community. It was a spoof, but had some poignant scenes, as well. It received rave reviews!
Kendal resident, Robert Taylor, was involved in theatre productions years ago. He thought it would be something he looked back on with fond affection. Instead, years later he was asked to take a part in a play reading directed by Jerry Berner. That was 15 years ago, and he is now on the play selection committee, and directs several plays each year.
Robert said, “The residents obviously love these readings, which I know because of the many positive comments I hear after each production. It is so rewarding for those of us who organize and produce the readings, and apparently equally rewarding for those who attend them. Residents have said that they had never imagined that having theater of this quality and variety so readily available would be part of their lives here at Kendal at Oberlin.”
So the seats fill-up, the audience is hushed, and the show goes on!