Seven Charlotteans Take Center Stage in a Live-Action Documentary from Playworks
Baby Boomers may get all the attention, but members of the “Silent Generation” (people aged 77 to 92) are speaking out in a new stage show at Booth Playhouse on Nov. 2 and 3.
Acting Our Age: Using Our Voices, presented by the Playworks Group, is an ongoing live theater presentation inspired by the lives of residents at the Aldersgate Life Plan Community in East Charlotte. This latest edition follows the first edition which launched in 2019 and was followed by two distanced performances during the pandemic, one of which was a one-hour documentary.
The 2022 version was the result of a 10-month exploration of the life stories of the seven participating seniors (aged 72-82) through interviews, writing and group discussions. Through the life stories of the participants, the live-action documentary takes audiences through lived history.
“It gives you a very personal, authentic close-up view of the events of their history and ours,” said Steve Umberger, director of The Playworks Group. “In this new edition, we see how the ‘Silent Generation’ really used their voices to affect change. Often, they weren’t so silent.”
The professional team behind this production includes legends of Charlotte stages – Lyndall Hare, Mitzi Corrigan, Jay Thomas, Fred Story, Barbara Berry and Umberger.
We were fortunate to catch up with Umberger to get the story behind the stories that will grace the stage during Acting Our Age.
How did this project come together?
Lyndall Hare is my spectacular partner and co-creator in this. She’s a Ph.D. gerontologist (a scientist who studies aging and its effects on medical treatment and well-being) from South Africa.
She’s been working with elders for 40 years. Aldersgate, where Lyndall has been a long-time consultant, was looking for an uncommon way to honor their residents. They enlisted Lyndall, and she enlisted me. Together, we’ve created Acting Our Age.
This one is the fifth edition we’ve created since 2019. It’s such a visionary thing for Aldersgate to want to do. The collaboration has been remarkable
Why is this show important to you personally and professionally?
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to expand out of just doing plays and take on documentary work. But, I wanted to do it on stage.
So much was (and is) going on in the world that I wanted to find a way to address it at “street level,” so to speak, with “real people.” The Acting Our Age project has allowed us to document where we’ve all been, where we are now and where we might go.
It’s a close-up on history through the lens of people who have lived it. We thought this could be tremendously entertaining and insightful with how history is changing so rapidly these days.
How do you hope audiences feel when they leave Acting Our Age?
In the 2019 performance at the McGlohon Theater, one audience member said: “This is how we can save the world — conversation, empathy, engagement.” That’s pretty heady, but we loved that that’s what she and many others took away.
We tell people, it’s not just a history lesson. It’s entertainment with seven surprising cast members with different professions from all over the country. This group is mainly The “Silent Generation,” so we get a first-hand look (and listen) at how they helped get us where we are today.
We also use continuous projections throughout the show on a screen behind them, with images of the performers’ lives and the times they’ve lived through. It’s an unusual blend of stage and film – sort of a “live documentary.” It takes 10 months to create.
Why is it important to give older folks creative outlets for their skills and passions? What does that do for them?
They’ve lived a lot of life and have reached not only a depth of experience but a lived-in confidence in that experience. Often they’re at the peak of their powers when they work with us, despite their age.
The people in AOA aren’t actors, but the same principle applies. They’ve “seen it all” and are ready to spill the beans.
What was it like to work with such an accomplished and seasoned team on the production side?
These are the “usual suspects.” We’ve all worked together for years on too many projects to count and in too many places to name in and outside North Carolina. They’re the best.
When you’ve worked together for a while, you have a shorthand with the team that makes it easier. You can get further because you start further.
What is next for Playworks?
After 10 months of working on this project – a break! After that, there is a project involving new plays (development and production) that have been on hold because of the pandemic. It’s about the new American story we’re all writing. There will be some news about that soon.
How can people support Playworks outside of buying tickets?
Spread the word, get on the mailing list and let us hear from you. The audience is an elemental part of the village it takes to do anything in the arts. We want to hear what people are thinking and feeling. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t Be Silent … Be In the Audience
Acting Our Age 2022 will be staged at the Booth Playhouse on Nov. 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. They are available through www.carolinatix.org. More information at playworksonline.org]
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