Senior theater company targets senior audience
When Wrenn Goodrum first saw “Love Letters” some years ago, she thought the play was pretty boring. But something about the idea of the power of handwritten letters stuck with her, and now the play has become one of her favorites – and one she will proudly direct at Matthews Playhouse May 4 and 5. Tickets are selling so well that another performance may be added on May 3.
“Love Letters” is a two-person show that follows Andrew Makepeace Ladd, III, and Melissa Gardner, two upper-class East Coasters, as they communicate for more than 40 years through letters and postcards. The play chronicles the soul mates’ relationship from second grade through their teenage years, college, middle age, marriage, divorce, success, failure and dreams.
Goodrum, president of ACTivate Community Through Theatre, directed the play in Davidson last October.
“People came up to me and said the show really touched (their) heart,” she said. “It’s got lots of humor, and it’s rather bittersweet as well.”
This production, however, is unique for two reasons: it will be presented in the Matthews Playhouse community room, using a temporary stage to create an intimate setting, and it is primarily focused on reaching an audience comprised of senior citizens.
The idea for this kind of a production was born last spring when Goodrum taught a workshop geared toward senior citizens. With 15 participating senior actors, Goodrum and her cast developed a two-hour play chronicling those seniors’ life stories. The show received overwhelmingly positive responses, with more than 250 people attending the show. Friends and family members made up only about 20 percent of the audience; the rest were interested members of the community, Goodrum said.
For quite a while, Goodrum’s dream was to create a senior theater company. After the success of the senior play, Goodrum spent the summer working with the Matthews Playhouse board of directors on getting the organization started. Soon, the public theater, dubbed Forever Young Players, was open.
Goodrum wanted Forever Young Players to present a play to the public. She decided for the company’s first major stage production, to keep it simple with a two-person show. Casting the show was somewhat of a challenge.
“It was a difficult process,” she said. “Many of the Forever Young Players auditioned. Some just weren’t right for the show. You have to have the right pairings. You have to have the right chemistry between the two characters.”
Goodrum ultimately cast actors David Gwilt and Lyndi Patton-Gura for the two leads. Gwilt, a Matthews senior, is new to acting, but familiar with the entertainment industry as the founder of the local radio program “Radio for the Ages,” designed to reach out to senior citizens. “I was very happy he auditioned,” Goodrum said.
Patton-Gura is what Goodrum calls a “wannabe” senior. The 40-something professional actress and sign interpreter recently starred in the Matthews Playhouse presentation of “The Miracle Worker.”
Patton-Gura was drawn to the simplicity of “Love Letters” and the show’s message about the power of handwritten word.
“There’s something sacred about the written word,” she said. “It’s a lost art. This story really needed to be told.”
She also finds it rewarding to use her talent to reach out to an audience that’s often forgotten.
Senior theater “is a wonderful, untapped resource,” Patton-Gura said. “It empowers a whole different group in our society, not just the theater-goers, but the artists, and we can learn from each other.”
Goodrum promises the show will be much more interesting than the presentation she first saw. She plans to incorporate more stage directions and props to add excitement and draw the audience in.
“I want to have the people really experience live theater,” she said. “People just don’t write letters anymore. But they’re so much different than emails. There’s something about finding the right pen, the right ink, the right stationary, taking time to handwrite a letter. My hope is that people leave this place thinking, ‘I need to go home and write a letter.’”
Want to go?
Matthews Playhouse’s Forever Young Players will present “Love Letters” Friday, May 4, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. A fourth show could be added Thursday, May 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $9 for students and seniors. To buy tickets call 704-846-8343 or visit www.matthewsplayhouse.com.
For more information on Forever Young Players or Goodrum’s acting classes, call 704-707-6757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.