Seniors take the spotlight at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center

By Katie Shaw One-by-one ,they gathered at center stage, each adding a moan or a wheeze to the growing chorus. Josie DeLellis let out a depressed sigh. Roy Harsh acted out a heart attack. Eventually eight senior citizens huddled close together and composed an "organ recital," a short musical of the typical sounds of old bodies and worn organs.

This physical representation of the pain of old age was part of a play written, produced, and performed in by senior citizens. "But Wait... There's More" has monologues based on the lives of the actors, and musical renditions including "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Thank God I'm Old." Shows are being performed from March 17-31 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center.

When Janice Winchester, 66, heard about the play, she had just retired and couldn't sit still. An event planner, Winchester was accustomed to being "the detail lady," not the woman in the spotlight.

After auditions in December (no one was turned down) and rehearsals soon after, Winchester made her stage debut performing a monologue about the shock of getting her mother's will.

Many of the cast members were strangers to the stage prior to "But Wait... There's More." The original group started getting together once a week in October to tell stories. From those get-togethers sprung the first-draft monologues written by the actors. Later, writer and director Marlene Anderson edited and condensed the stories into the play. Dressed in head to foot black, the actors delivered monologues taken from many stages of life, but all from the perspective of older age.

"This senior center is like high school with arthritis," rang out one memorable line.

Old age and experience are what this group of actors have in common, and the play concentrates on that over-arching shared experience as an identity that can bring people together.

Winchester claimed that eventually race, class and gender often get eclipsed by old age. "At this age, those things are not as significant as what we're dealing with."

Roy Harsh described an intense identification with the other cast members and the friendships that grew out of the play. "I take them home with me," he said of the other actors. "They're in my head when I go to work."

Cast members were quick to point out that just because they're older doesn't mean they don't have anything to contribute or they can't relate to younger generations.

Harsh has confronted the generation gap while traveling with 13 and 14 year olds through an education group called EF tours. The first response he gets is, "who is this old guy?" he said. But by the end of the trip the kids get to know him and can relate. Harsh has an "enormous faith" in the younger generation.

Winchester had an intense cross-generational connection when her granddaughter phoned at 3 am from the airport in Washington, D.C., to talk about a pro-choice rally she had attended and how thrilling it was. Winchester was an activist at the first ever pro-choice rally in Washington, and when her granddaughter got home, she got out a photo of herself at that rally.

"I think it's a wonderful forum," said Winchester of the play, "because I know that we are not cute little old ladies."

For Josie DeLellis it was an opportunity to show "that I still have it." She and James Butler did the tango. Kay Thode fulfilled a long-standing dream to sing onstage.

"It gives me another chance to outrun the rocking chair," said Tina Mason, a poet with a powerful soprano voice.

Director and writer Marlene Anderson, who suffered a stroke at 56, feels the pang of old age to an extra degree. The play was a chance for her to get moving in the performance sphere again.

"I find I've fallen in love with everyone in the cast," she said.

Her next plan is to perform the play for local schools and at more retirement homes-they have already performed it at four.

There were a few blunders in the show that cast members chocked up to old age: a line call for a forgotten line, a cast member standing outside of the lighting. Despite the unavoidable physical difficulties, this production seems to have attracted plenty of youthful spirits.

"I'm 66, and I still feel young," said Winchester. "Am I a senior citizen?"[[In-content Ad]]