The antics of the 55-plus crowd involved with ACT Theatre may surprise you.
For more than a year, Wrenn Goodrum has taught and directed seniors through two area theater groups, Davidson Community Players and Matthews Playhouse. The founder/artistic director of Activate Community Through Theatre lives in Concord and is looking to expand her workshops and performances in Cabarrus County.
"They go further than one's expectation," she said about a recent Davidson Seniors on Stage performance called "Young at Heart - A Laugh-In Experience." They performed after a 10-week class in improvisation, storytelling and character creations. "I had a 75-year-old who got on the ground and pretended to stalk a mouse like a cat, and another who rolled around like a dog, but one of the funniest things I've seen was this lady who always had an oxygen tank with her in all of the classes, but for the performances she got a really long tube so she wouldn't have to carry around her tank. For that show, they sang 'Zippity-do-da' and she started jumping rope with her oxygen cord."
Goodrum's corporation also offers theater classes, workshops and performances for youth and intergenerational communities, schools, libraries and colleges.
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Goodrum, a Cary native, graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, now called the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She worked as an actress, a theater director and educator in New York City for 10 years before working with Rhode Island's American Repertory Company, Trinity Rep. She also founded the award-winning All Children's Theatre in Rhode Island and was its artistic/executive director for 21 years. She was given an honorary doctorate degree in pedagogy (the study of teaching) from Rhode Island College, and after nearly 30 years of teaching and directing youth theater, she broadened her passion to seniors.
She began offering free workshops to assisted living facilities, senior centers, YMCAs and recreational facilities throughout Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties, but struggled to find financial support. Davidson Community Players started to offer her workshops in the fall of 2010. Matthews Playhouse followed suit. Both theater groups are continuing Goodrum's theater programs for seniors. Matthews Playhouse, with funding from the Arts & Science Council, also will help fund a Life Stories class, which filled up in two days.
"There are classes in dance, tai chi, yoga, exercise, etcetera, but I haven't found any acting classes offered in any of the senior communities in this area," she said. "What I dream of happening is that my phone will ring off the hook like it did for the Life Stories class in Matthews with seniors wanting programs in Concord, Harrisburg and Kannapolis. If they want it, I will find a place."
Carolyn Taylor, 72, has lived in Concord for 10 years and is taking the Life Stories class.
"The reason I'm taking this class is to challenge myself to doing something I've never done before," she said. "I've always loved the theater, and my 13-year-old grand-daughter, Alison, inspires me. We just started our class yesterday, and it's filled with 16 interesting and exciting seniors from all walks of life. This should be a very uplifting experience for us all."
Goodrum said statistics prove that seniors who participate in theater lead healthier lives. Experts say acting offers cognitive, emotional and physiological benefits because it stimulates activity in the brain. A Center for Aging, Health and Humanities study at George Washington University showed seniors involved in the arts have fewer falls, fewer doctor visits and fewer pills to take, and they are in better health than those who do not participate in the arts.
For Rodney Nall, the reason is simpler.
"I do this for pure enjoyment," he said. "I love it. I hadn't done any acting since elementary school, and it was just something I got involved in and got hooked."
The 71-year-old from Mooresville has been involved with local senior theater groups for about six years. He was one of the first members of South Iredell Senior Center's theater group, and he created Readers Theatre With a Twist after the Iredell group disbanded a few years ago. He also took Goodrum's 10-week class in improvisation, storytelling and character creations.
"She is a bundle of energy," he said. "With her experience as an actress, and her history, we learn a lot from her.
"The struggle I've seen is getting seniors past the fear of participating, but Wrenn seems to have the ability to bring things out in people that they don't really know they have inside them. She just loves what she does, and it's very evident and infectious."
Nall had his first heart attack 10 years ago and a second last month on Jan. 20. He said he doesn't speculate much about whether the theater classes helped delay the occurrence; he just knows they make him happy.
"We try to kind of preach that this is good mental exercise," he said. "It keeps you alert and active, and it keeps the mind and body going. It's just good medicine. Laughter is great medicine, and I think it will help me live longer and do more things."