Shared from the 2016-11-13 Dayton Daily News eEdition

THEATER

Comedic play targets seniors


Local troupe will present “Ripcord” at Dayton Playhouse.

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“Waiting in the Wings,” was the Young at Heart Players first production in June 2001. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

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Pictured in the 2003 production of “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running” are actors Bert Staub and Dutch Waterman.

IF YOU GO

What:“Ripcord,”a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, presented by the Young at Heart Players When: Friday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Nov. 27. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. SiebenthalerAve., Dayton. (Note that although this play is being performed at the Dayton Playhouse, it is not a Playhouse production.) Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students. May be purchased at the door with cash or check only. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling Fran Pesch at 937-654-0400. For information: youngatheartplayers.com Advisory: This production contains some strong language not suitable for younger audiences.

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“Ripcord ” will be presented by the Young at Heart Players. Shown, left to right, Fran Pesch, Mark Anderson and Gayle Smith. CONTRIBUTED

In 1997, after surviving a brain tumor diagnosis, Fran Pesch decided she wanted to do something new that would benefit an under-served population.

You can see the results when the Young at Heart Players presents the first show in its 16th season. The comedy, “Ripcord,” which the New York Times called “a comic tale of adversaries,” will be on stage at the Dayton Playhouse Nov. 18-27.

Pesch had already accomplished quite a lot when she first received that life-changing diagnosis. She’d been licensed or certified in several professions — nursing, real estate, teaching and pastoral ministry. In 1990, she’d followed her daughter Annie’s lead and returned to performing on stage. Since that time, she’s has made a name for herself in the Miami Valley’s theatrical community as a member of the Dayton Playhouse Board of Directors and a Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame inductee. She is an acting coach at the University of Dayton’s School of Law and is a major force behind Future Fest, the annual festival of new plays at the Dayton Playhouse, where she performs and directs.

But in 1997, Pesch decided the under-served population she wanted to target was seniors. “I had previously directed childrens’ theater camps, so it was natural that I ‘graduated’ to seniors,” she explains. And that is how she became the Founder/Director of a fledgling company, the Young at Heart Players.

Senior theater companies, according to Pesch, have grown dramatically in recent years. There were 79 in 1999; there are more than 800 worldwide in 2016. “Recent studies show that arts participation has health benefits and promotes the physical, mental and emotional well-being of older adults,” she explains. “Senior Theatres, such as Young at Heart Players, provide opportunities for seniors to participate in the arts as creators, learners, supporters or audience members. Her own company, she adds, incorporates intergenerational programs that bring together diverse groups and help dispel inaccurate and negative myths of ageism.”

Chuck Larkowski of Fairborn has appeared in two of the YAHP productions and said both of them were both challenging for him as an actor and extremely well received by the audience. “In particular, ‘The Gin Game,’ which I did in 2010 with the magnificent Barb Jorgensen, is one of my most cherished theater memories,” he says now. “A full-length two-character play is tough to pull off; I was very proud of the result.”

Gayle Smith of Miami Twp., who will be performing in “Ripcord,” likes the fact that the senior troupe’s rehearsal schedule is relaxed and flexible. Smith says it’s not restricted, like most community theater rehearsal schedules, to mostly evening weekday times.”

About “Ripcord”

Pesch’s troupe will stage six performances of “Ripcord, ” penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. The author is best known for “Rabbit Hole,” “Fuddy Meers” and “Good People.”

The plot focuses on two women of a certain age who are locked in a no-holds-barred battle. They’re fighting over a bed by the window in asunny room on an upper floor in the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility. A seemingly harmless bet between the women quickly escalates into a dangerous game of one-upmanship that reveals not just their tenacity, but some deeper truths that each would rather remain hidden.

“Our plays deal with senior issues but many of these issues affect all of us directly or indirectly,” Pesch says, citing themes such as age discrimination, economic insecurity, end-of- life issues, physical and mental health health, loneliness, loss of independence, love, dating, romance and relationships.

Directing “Ripcord” is Pesch’s daughter Annie, an accomplished actor/director in her 30s. “The majority of adults in our country are now seniors, and the majority of people who regularly attend theater are seniors,” Annie observes. “It is important for theaters to include seniors in their programming, and YAHP does that with every show they produce.”

She has directed other plays for her mother’s theater troupe and says the challenge of working with older actors is that sadly, some pass away or move into assisted living facilities. “As actors get older, there are sometimes additional issues with ease of movement, memorization and hearing,” she notes. “It does not mean they can no longer perform; it is just an added challenge for these actors on top of all the other production challenges, like not being able to rehearse in the performance venue.”

Annie says that with all three shows she has directed for YAHP, there has been a focus on intergenerational casting. “In ‘Waiting in the Wings,’ YAHP’s inaugural production, our cast of 18 actors ranged in age from teens to 80s,” she remembers. “YAHP works to dispel the myths of ageism, and what better way to do that than with people of all ages working together as a team and putting on a show for audiences of all ages?”

Over the years

In the first 10 years of the company’s existence, Pesch notes, the plays chosen tended to deal with senior issues such as dementia and loss.“Butsince2011,ourfocus has been on producing shows with uplifting themes and humor,” she says. “We realized that for some seniors the reality of daily living provides enough drama!”

Sandy Lemming of Kettering is a long-time supporter of the company and a new member of the YAHP board. She’s also been involved with the Young at Heart Players touring group. (For several years, in addition to its main-stage productions, YAHP performed for groups, offering skits that addressed senior issues with poignancy and humor.)

“As a member of a YAHP multi-age audience I have frequently felt that the company productions, which present a senior point of view, have helped me and others in the audience to learn about life situations and problems that apply to anyone regardless of age,” Lemming says. “Assisting with the action and the actors of a YAHP production continues to be a rewarding experience for me. The actorsareconfidentandexperienced and their acting comfortlevelmakesitfunandeasy to help with things like costuming, reading lines, assisting with stage management, and whatever behind-the-scenes job needs to be done.”

Lemming says the company continues to contribute to the Dayton theater scene by offering plays that provide opportunities to see senior actors at their best while entertaining and helping everyone understand that much of the human experience is shared by all ages.

What’s ahead

The next production for the Young at Heart Players will be “First Kisses” by Jay D. Hanagan. The show is a past Future Fest winner, and will be presented at the Dayton Playhouse June 2-11.

Pesch says that the majority of the past 15 years have proved challenging, both in termsofherownhealthissues and in terms of securing a place to stage major productions. “I was not sure how much longer we could continue but the support and encouragement the Dayton Playhouse Board of Directors and its board chair, Brian Sharp, have been a godsend,” she says.

Pesch is hoping that in the near future the company will beabletoexpanditsprogramming and once again provide ongoing theater activities for seniors as well as a touring troupe. “Hopefully more people will become acquainted with us,” she says. “Young at Heart Players is dedicated to enriching the lives of senior adults through participation in theatrical activities designed to enhance communication, creativity and socialization — both on and off stage.”

Dennis Turner of Dayton insists Dionysus, the god of theater and other things, is aliveandwellinDayton,Ohio. “The quality of live theater in Dayton is equal to or better than stage productions I have seen in San Francisco and Stratford, Ontario,” Turner says. “The ‘Young at Heart Players,’ under the leadership of Fran Pesch, is a shining example of the theatrical excellence we in Dayton are so fortunate to have right in our backyard. Seeing a play staring Barb Jorgenson, just one of the ‘Players’ outstanding actors, is to witness acting genius.”

Dottie Wefler, 95, was a founding member and actor for the company. When she and her acting colleagues first began to realize there were fewer parts for older people, she remembers that they weren’t at all ready to stop performing. ” Then Fran stepped in and saved us by creating the ‘Young at Heart Players,’ she recalls. “I loved it and so did the rest of our friends. It was so good to entertain other people, especially older ones.”

Although Wefler moved to North Carolina with her daughter, she says she was happy to return to Dayton years later and see that her beloved theatrical group was still going strong. “I’m 95 years old now, can’t hear well, can’t remember well, but I’ll never forget the joy of the theater and especially Fran, who made it possible to be ‘young at heart.’ ”

Contact this reporter at 937-225-2440 or email Meredith.

Moss@coxinc.com.

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