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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

STUSA Playwriting Workshop in Asheville

The Senior Theatre League of America will meet in Asheville, North Carolina, June 6-9, 1910, and there'll be a playwriting workshop during the conference. Here's the working draft of the description:


Playwrights gather each morning for a double session (roughly 9 to noon), working on exercises and assigned topics. Each writer will produced a ten minute play by the end of the conference, which will be given a reading by participants during the festival’s final session. Workshop will be coordinated by Dr. Alan Woods of Ohio State’s Department of Theatre, and an experienced playwright to be named. Woods, working with Theatre and Aging Pioneer Dr. Joy Reilly, teaches courses in the only graduate Senior Theatre program in North America at Ohio State. He has run the bi-annual Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition since 2003 and hosted an annual retreat for members of the International Centre for Women Playwrights since 2007. In addition, Woods sponsored the Limbo Project in 2008. More information is at; on the other projects, see, and

for more information about the STLA, see

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Update on Baltimore Festival!

Senior Theatre Festival USA
Finally getting to post about the Senior Theatre Festival USA in Baltimore, which happened last June--a Presidential campaign got in the way, and it's been a busy (albeit ultimately rewarding!) Fall. The festival was in mid June; I'm on the board of the organization, and put together a playwriting workshop, which met each morning of the festival. Playwright Stuart Hall joined me in conducting the workshop; the festival also heard a reading of his new short play, "Spindrift Way," on Friday night. We had between five and ten writers (some came and went, because of other programs), and gave them various exercises and assignments. Lots of creative work, from both accomplished and frequently produced playwrights, as well as from people hoping to get started.

some of the group assembled; that's Stuart in the red shirt

Stuart started us out on the first day; he'd prepared three envelopes. One had professions, the second had an emotion, and the third a line of dialogue. So a writer could draw "carpenter" "frustrated" and "where is the exit?" and then have to write a short piece incorporating those details. Great fun. A couple of folks had brought short pieces, which we read aloud, and then talked about. At the end of the first day, we gave the writers an assignment: to produce a short monologue on the topic, "What Shall We Do About Mother?"

Stuart, Shirley, and John study a script

On the second day, the playwrights read their monologues, which were inventive (and for senior theatre folks, the topic was close to home). And we worked on additional exercises, and read a few more short pieces or scenes from longer works brought in by the playwrights. The homework assignment for the next day: write Mother's response to the first monologue.

One group of playwrights and actors listen to readings

Again, readings, and again, wonderfully inventive work. More discussion, more readings, with volunteer actors. Then the assignment for the next day: write a five minute play which incorporates the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a bouquet of flowers, and the line, "Myrtle really did it this time!"

The playwrights really outdid themselves; terrific work (perhaps inspired by seeing Stuart's play the previous night!). Volunteer actors again, who then rehearsed later in the morning, then performed the plays in one of the festival's performance spaces in the afternoon.

That afternoon also saw a reading of my short piece, "Limbo, Ohio" on a bill with Doug Stewart's short play, "Final Exam." The cast for my play included Doug Stewart as Willy Loman, joan kohl as Jocasta, and Daneen Axelrod as Cleopatra. I read in Doug's play as St. Peter, with joan as Mother Earth.

Drove to Baltimore with my colleague Joy Reilly, who presented several workshops and one of the creators of senior theatre, having founded a major company, Grandparents Living Theatre, some twenty years ago, and Columbus senior actor Sarah Worthington, founder and artistic director of the Senior Theatre troupe, Footsteps of the Elders. The Festival included lots and lots of performances, workshops, panels, and great energy. Only drawback: the campus of the University of Maryland--Baltimore County, where the Festival was held, isn't fully ADA compliant, and there were very long walks between the housing in dorms and the performance/festival sites. And it was hot and humid! But the discomfort was, in the end, minor; the energy and excitement about the senior theatre movement more than made up for the weather and distances.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On to St. Louis! Twice!

We'll be doing the conference circuit twice this year in St. Louis, then Toronto-- Joy Reilly and I will be conducting workshops on theatre and aging at the Mid America Theatre Conference in St. Louis in early March -- the ones that a winter snow storm stopped us from doing in Minneapolis last winter -- and then be back in St. Louis for the Senior Theatre League of America conference; I've been asked to coordinate a playwrights' workshop with two distinguished American playwrights, and to propose some academic panels on theatre and aging. So working on that. Currently arranging readings for the 2007 Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors winners and runners-up. The first, a reading of For Unto Us by Massachusetts playwright James McClindon, was so successful that Dignity, the Roman Catholic GLBT group, asked us to do it again--and we did, with about 45 enthusiastic folks in attendance.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

First (and only!) Graduate Program in Theatre and Aging in North America is at Ohio State

The nation's first graduate courses in Theatre and Aging will be offered again in July 2007 at The Ohio State University's Department of Theatre. The courses are also part of the core curriculum for Ohio State's Certificate in Gerontology. Here's some information about the courses:

Audience members at a performance drawn from oral histories

As America’s baby boomer generation approaches retirement, demands for new recreational and educational programs are increasing. Ohio State’s Department of Theatre offers two intensive seminars in July, 2007, to help meet that need. Theatre and Aging seminars, taught by two internationally-recognized experts in the field, Dr. Joy H. Reilly and Dr. Alan Woods, provide both practical, hands-on experience, as well as exploring critical, historical, and textual information about this new area, in the nation’s first graduate program in Theatre and Aging, now in its second year.

Carol Shelton, Ann Mirels, and Sarah Worthington read a script

Senior Theatre -- performance by and for those over 55 years old -- is the most rapidly growing sector of recreational and vocational theatre in North America and Europe, according to Dr. Woods. Senior theatres range from amateur and therapeutic groups in retirement centers, recreational centers and churches, to interdisciplinary companies, community theatre, college and university theatre, and fully professional performance groups. There is, accordingly, a growing demand for trained specialists, and Ohio State’s seminars help meet that demand.

volenteer performers scrutinize a script at a cold reading

Ohio State’s seminars in Theatre and Aging can be taken for Continuing Education credit by non-degree students, and are also available for graduate credit. The seminars are the first graduate courses in the United States, and were developed in consultation with the Committee for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Specialization in Aging. Students may earn a certificate in Aging at Ohio State while also earning the Master of Arts or Ph.D in Theatre.

audience members react to a senior performance

Dr. Reilly's work in senior theatre began in the early 1980s with the development of Grandparents Living Theatre in the Columbus community and subsequent collaborations with OSU's Departments of Theatre, and Geriatrics and Gerontology. This culminated with the International Senior Theatre Festival and Conference hosted by the Department of Theatre in August 2002. Reilly also creates experimental Live Art readings by a collaborative performance group, Howling at the Moon.

Howling at the Moon performs

Her course, The Practice of Theatre and Aging meets from 1.30 pm.-5.30 p.m. July 9-20, in the Drake Performance and Event Center. Reilly's focus will be on learning a variety of practical methods for working with seniors. Students will work with older guest actors on employing reminiscences, as well as conducting oral histories and turning them into original theatrical presentations. They will learn how to teach a group life review class, how to create and present Reader's Theatre programs by and for the elderly, and will have the opportunity to write and engage in Live Art performances of Lifewriting, as pioneered by Howling at the Moon.

Woods, the Director of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee Theatre Research Institute at OSU, launched a highly successful senior theatre playwriting contest named for the late Eileen Heckart in 2003. Nearly 500 scripts were submitted in the most recent contest. His seminar, which meets Monday through Friday 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. July 9-20, is entitled Crones, Curmudgeons, and Living Treasures --- Theatre and Aging.

Pat Barnett, Sarah Worthington, and Carol Shelton after reading a new script, 2006.

The class will explore the history of the emerging international Senior Theatre Movement from its beginnings in the post World War II era to the present. It includes the application of studies in gerontology to the developing theory of Senior Theatre, and the growing literature of dramatic texts created for senior theatre from oral history, life narratives, and traditionally scripted drama.

Pat Barnett and Sarah Worthington discuss scripts in 2006 seminar

Information is available at along with a brochure than can be downloaded. For more information contact, or, or call the Department of Theatre at 614/292-5821.

Theatre 675.01
Summer 2007 M-F 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
July 9-20 2038 Drake Performance and Event Center
Instructor: Dr. Alan Woods
1433 Lincoln Tower 292-6614
office hours: MW 3-5 p.m. and by appointment

Title: Crones, Curmudgeons, and Living Treasures--Theatre and Aging.

Description: The History, Theory, and Literature of the Senior Theatre Movement.

Senior Theatre--performance by and for those over 55 years old--is the most rapidly growing sector of recreational and avocational theatre in North America and Europe, with fully professional performance groups now emerging. This course explores the history of the emerging international Senior Theatre Movement from its beginnings in the post World War II era to the present, the application of studies in gerontology to the developing theory of Senior Theatre, and the growing literature of dramatic texts created for Senior Theatre from oral history, life narratives, and traditionally scripted drama.

Learning Objectives: By the end of the course, the student will have gained a detailed knowledge of the growth, development, and current status of Senior Theatre, awareness of performance as both artistic and recreational activity, and familiarity with the Senior Theatre=s dramatic texts, both original and adapted for the particular needs of Senior Theatre practitioners. With Theatre 675b, The Practice of Theatre and Age, this course constitutes a concentration in senior theatre as part of the area of specialization in aging.

Teaching Method: lecture/discussion.


Each student will complete two short research reports, with the results presented orally in class. The oral reports will focus on (1) an analysis of three plays (ten minute, one act, full length) written for Senior Theatre groups, and (2) an existing professional, avocational or recreational Senior Theatre company. Each report should last about 15 minutes, and must include appropriate handouts.


Grades will be determined by the quality of work completed, with individual assignments contributing as listed below
Research Report 40%
Research Report 40%
Participation 10%
total 100%


This syllabus is available in alternative formats upon request. Any student who feels s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss specific needs. Please contact the Office of Disability Services at 292-3307 in room 150 Pomerene Hall to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities.

Class outline

M 7/9: introduction and theoretical background; gerontology and the realities of aging in America in the second half of the twentieth century; representation of older characters in plays; plays assigned
T 7/10: Stumbling/road blocks: strengths and limitations of performance by and for the aging ; have read Strimling, Introduction; Basting, chapter 1.
W 7/11: history: avocational/recreational beginnings; drama as therapy; have read Greenblatt, chapter 1, Vorenberg, introduction; survey of companies; companies assigned
R 7/12: history: Senior pride and the gray panthers; theatre as empowerment; consciousness raising; have read Basting, chapter 3; excerpts from I Was Young, Now I=m Wonderful
F 7/13: history: Senior drama recognized; American Theatre Association focus group; have read Cornish and Kase, Introduction. Play reports.

M 7/16: history and literature: development of first strains of professionalism, development of oral history and self generated texts; have read Kaminsky, Introduction, in Myerhoff
T 7/17: history and literature: professional senior companies growth and maturity; efforts to expand repertory; have read Basting, Chapter 4; have read Lonergan
W 7/18: history and literature: senior centers and entertainment; the >dancing grannies=; international connections and contexts; Basting, chapters 2 and 8.
R 7/19: history and literature: specialization and niche groups; cross cultural and diversity issues; the market emerges; conferences, festivals, emergence of a professional association
F 7/20: history, theory and literature: have read Basting, conclusion; company reports.

Basting, Anne Davis. The Stages of Age: Performing Age in Contemporary American Culture. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998.
Cornish, Roger, and C. Robert Kase, eds., Senior Adult Theatre: The American Theatre Association Handbook. University Park and London: Pennsylvania State U P, 1981.
Greenblatt, Fred S. Drama With the Elderly: Acting at Eighty. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1985.
Lonergan, Kenneth. The Waverly Gallery. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
Myerhoff, Barbara. Remembered Lives: The Work of Ritual, Storytelling, and Growing Older. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992.
Strimling, Arthur. Roots & Branches: Creating Intergenerational Theatre. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004.
Vorenberg, Bonnie L. Senior Theatre Connections. Portland: ArtAge Publications, 1999.


Ten minute:

Sandra Dempsey: Rosa’s Lament
Jim Gordon: A Good Deed
Kathy Coudle King: Brittle Bones
Douglas Stewart: Final Exam
Nicholas Tasi: Boxer
Justin Warner: Lunch Boat

One Act:

Martha Boesing: Song of the Magpie
Jay D. Hanagan: Welcome Home
Maureen Brady Johnson: Limbo
Robert L. Kinast: Salt in the Pepper Shaker
John Lordan: Friendly Skies
Mary Steelsmith: List of Honor

Full length:

Donald Drake: The Passage
Joe Feinstein: The Last of the Aztecs
Judy Juanita: Theodicy
TheodicyJulia Perlstein: PLINKO!; or, the Goddess of Static Cling
Lynn Snyder: Older Than Dead
Nancy Zaman: To Heir is Human