CLEARWATER — Feisty Grandma Claire took one misstep and broke her arm going out to the porch for a glass of wine one evening. Obstinate Bob swears he’s capable of driving his granddaughter to the mall. Sweet Mary Martha swooned for an online romance scam.
And those are just three of the all-too-true-to-life characters playwright Linda Goldman creates for Senior Actors Guild and Education Services (SAGES), the Tampa Bay non-profit she co-founded with executive director Christine Hamacher in 2019 to bring “Plays with Purpose” to adult community theater.
Unlike silly, stereotypical senior citizen humor, Goldman’s one-act, one-hour plays are smartly embedded with safety cues for aging health and lifestyle changes. The dialogue rings true because Goldman, 76, is her own target audience.
“We don’t lecture… we show good choices and bad choices,” said the retired post office revenue analyst.
“We know things happen as we age but we have risks we want to take even at this age. We still want to learn, to have purpose, to be self activated within our own abilities.”
Her first play, Denying Gravity, tackles fall prevention. In the next, Phoney Baloney, seniors play Dominoes and swap stories that turn out to be scams. In Deal Maker, a widower wants to keep his car though his cognitive abilities are declining.
By March 2020, as the coronavirus began to surge, more than 2,500 seniors, family members and caregivers had been educated and entertained by Denying Gravity. According to Hamacher, partnerships with 911 and fire rescue agencies resulted in a documented reduction of emergency calls related to at-home falls throughout Pinellas County.
Driven by such potentially lifesaving data, the two women would not allow the pandemic to close the curtain on SAGES’ vital programming.
Luckily, in October 2019, before the all-senior, all-volunteer cast and crew, plus some EMS responders in cameo roles, ever heard of COVID-19, Hamacher arranged to film a performance of Denying Gravity at the Bilheimer Capitol Theater in Clearwater.
The professional recording was copied on DVDs for grant-funded “Do-It-Yourself” kits distributed to local 55+ communities. Goldman also wrote and produced a series of humorous skits enacting useful COVID information for YouTube and the SAGES website.
Another pandemic innovation will continue, SAGES Readers Theater, a “performance of the voice,” as Goldman calls it, without costumes, sets or props. She blends parts of her scripts with literary expressions and participants’ personal memories, “perhaps their first car or the smell of French fries on the boardwalk,” the Clearwater resident explained.
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In October 2020, when it felt safe to perform Phoney Baloney to a small, masked audience, Hamacher had that show recorded and packaged in another 100 free DIY kits for senior communities across Tampa Bay.
Now she optimistically plans to present at least seven in-person shows in 2022, with some extra staged readings in Spanish. Deal Maker is set to premiere April 16 at the Catherine Hickman Theatre in Gulfport as more venues are being sought.
“The only requirements are a stage accessible to the public with a safe backstage area and good parking,” said Hamacher, 54, noting there is never a ticket fee associated with any Play with Purpose, per SAGES copyright license agreement.
“It is truly unusual for any playwright to designate that their work must be performed for free,” she said. “That’s how strongly we feel about raising awareness of these topics and replicating the plays across the country. Most senior communities have some sort of theater group and we think they will welcome this.”
Many more public service themes play in Goldman’s mind, as she realizes the “phenomenal positive emotional appeal of live theater.”
“…I didn’t know it would be successful…how many we’d impact. I feel we are actually saving lives and improving the well-being of older adults,” she said.
“I can’t believe I have this opportunity at this stage of my life to do something good that I so enjoy.”
If you go
Deal Maker will be performed at 2 p.m April 16 at the Catherine Hickman Theatre in Gulfport. Free admission.
Plays With Purpose kits featuring a DVD of a professionally recorded SAGES Theater performance, with scripts, viewing guidelines, playbills and audience feedback forms, can be ordered at sagestheater.org.
To volunteer, audition or schedule a SAGES performance, call (727) 536-7076.