Never too late for seniors to get in act
By JACKIE JAHFETSON
Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — When two actors get on stage, a series of tiny little “plays” dispatch all at once. The lighting, the sound, the set. Each aspect complements the other. And if someone forgets their cue, everyone knows that the show must go on. This backstage pass is a world not many theater lovers get to see, let alone people who have no experience with theater whatsoever.
That’s why the Marquette Theater Educational Program for senior citizens exists to reveal the facets of what makes a play a play and give those theater lovers a chance at their own spotlight.
Under the instruction of Moire Embley, the program began in 2014 with her senior acting class. Then three years ago, Embley expanded the class into a theater education program for senior citizens. This change created a more interactive experience for seniors to see the entire process of what goes on behind the curtain, Embley said.
Partnering up with Northern Michigan University’s theater department and community theater groups such as UPShakes/Wolf’s Head Theater Co. and Lake Superior Theatre, Embley wanted to give seniors an authentic, real opportunity to meet directors, work with a range of actors and encourage them to audition for productions.
“You don’t even realize how much work goes on stage to get that one actor, it’s all of these hundreds of people behind that one actor, saying that one line and they get to see all of that so it’s really great,” Embley said.
Since she was a little girl on stage, theater has been a part of Embley’s life, she said, noting that she took on the director role in college and enjoyed that aspect of theater. Having a director’s insight, Embley saw an opportunity to broaden what the senior acting class could offer.
“It came to me because I was just teaching the acting class and there’s only so much you can teach in a four-wall space. So I felt like I was running into a little bit of a wall with continuing to be creative in my job,” Embley said.
After writing up a proposal to implement a senior acting program, Embley presented it to the Marquette Senior Center where it was then brought to the Marquette City Commission and approved immediately. Embley got on the ball by partnering up with NMU, and said they have been a “wonderful partner.”
Senior students of the program not only get a backstage pass to rehearsals at NMU’s Forest Roberts Theatre, but they also get to visit theater classes and interact with students and this process “fosters relationships,” Embley said, adding that they get free tickets to shows and even help design stage props. It’s always a fresh process for Embley’s students, because no show is the same, she said.
In the classroom, students write their own monologues, read plays and conduct script analyses so that they understand the development of characters, she said.
“It challenges them in ways where it constantly keeps them not only in a creative process but it’s also challenging in delving into your own psyche in a way and also it keeps you focused,” Embley said.
Student Lori Hazen is currently working on a monologue of a woman talking to a therapist about her husband who fought in the Vietnam War and the toll it took on this woman. Hazen said she discovered this character by being inspired by real-life events, and the most rewarding aspect she gets out of this program is the relationships with fellow senior and college students.
“It’s been one of the most meaningful, enjoyable growing experiences I’ve had that I never anticipated,” Hazen said. “The plays are so much more interesting, I find myself as I watch the performance critiquing things.”
Lois Stanley, fellow senior student, has been cast in NMU’s “Significant Other,” which launches at 7:30 tonight, runs through the weekend and continues next weekend from Wednesday through Feb. 22. This marks her second premiere on stage and this program has more than enough prepped her for her role, she said.
“The most fun thing for me is developing characters and I always feel like when I’ve worked on a character for a while, it’s like this new person is in my life. And it’s delightful; it’s just fun and challenging,” Stanley said. “… The other thing is working on my memory skills, it’s really hard to memorize. It’s a challenge but it’s a good one.”
Embley instructs her students through the audition process, so they’re fine-tuned when they are in front of a director, aiming to nail the part, student Mike Lourde said, who said he never anticipated to be acting at 66 years old.
“It absolutely helps with memory but the class by far broadens your horizons. You get to experience things that you really never experienced before but one of (the) things that intrigues me the most is you really get to explore emotions,” Plourde said. “Some of those emotions I’ve never felt before but when we do our scenes in class, Moire is there like, ‘You need this emotion, you need this emotion.’ Next thing I know, there’s like six of them I got to put in there and I got to find them.”
Watching the play in its live form is a collaborative effort, Plourde noted. Though theater can be scary and intimidating to audition for a role, Plourde said he has found himself immersed in the theater culture and how vulnerable stage life actually is.
“This is called a class but in a lot of ways, it’s not. There’s absolutely no pressure, whatsoever. Moire will guide you, and guide you and guide you. Everybody works together,” Plourde said. “… I don’t ever really expect to become a movie star, but I’m having fun with it.”
People interested in joining the program don’t need any previous theater experience; this is a learning and interactive environment for everyone, Embley added.
“Even if you don’t feel like you want to be an actor, there is still something in this program for you because you get to see all the backstage stuff, you get to participate in the discussions. And if you’re just a theater goer, this is a great program for you,” Embley said. “Because then you get to see the rehearsal process and get to go to a show for free. But if they’re feeling adventurous and want to try out for a show, it’s always encouraged but never a requirement.”
Senior acting classes are held twice a month from 2 to 4 p.m. in the lower level of Peter White Public Library at the City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center. The next class session is set for Monday, Feb. 24. To get involved with the theater senior program, contact Embley at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 906-360-7126.
Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is email@example.com.