When the board of Edmonton Musical Theatre (EMT) applied for a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors Program, it hoped to present a work focused on elder abuse. But how to create something musical, entertaining and even--perhaps-- funny about the subject? Enter local playwright and director Timothy Anderson, who has a bit of a knack in bringing a light touch to serious subjects, and has done it before in past fringe productions (genocide of Indigenous peoples and child abuse by priests, for example).
Anderson is a great choice to lead the cast of EMT's 'I'm Still Here', which brings together an ensemble of 16 locals (ranging in age from 55-85) for a 60-minute juke-box-style song and sketch effort tackling issues that matter to that demographic; everything from 'exploitation and aggressive advocates to scheming siblings and bedpan burnout'. The material for the show was collected through interviews with community seniors and cast members sharing their own stories--positive and negative--about ageism, family discord and elder abuse--which can be financial, emotional or physical.
"I had many of these rather horrible situations with elders in my own life--some of the challenges of what are supposed to be the 'golden years', but I told everyone this would be a comedy, and it is," said Anderson, who wrote and directs the piece, along with music direction from Brad Heintzman. "The music ranges from golden age tunes to current Broadway songs--some of them highly irreverent."
"But the piece is shaped and acted by seniors with humour, wisdom and drama. Listen to your elders."
The story takes shape through a game show, Jeopardy-style setting, where contestants answer questions (with related skits and songs) on issues facing seniors. For Edmonton senior Maria Yakula, who plays the game show's emcee, and accompanies many a song on ukulele, it's been a meaningful and exhilarating run.
"This is my first show with EMT--it's a challenge but the subject is so worthwhile," she said.
"If the audience gets half of what we're putting into the show, all the meaning put in to each song and bit of action, it'll percolate." said Anderson.
The cast includes Angela Springate, Barb Hubbard, Brenda Remin, Chips Reid, Christie Mawer, Karen Sucie, Kärin Thomas, Laura Eschak, Lisa Simone Swaren, Maria Yakula, Morgan Smith, Rhonda Kozuska, Joyce Mellott, Shirley Perry, Susan Rasko, and James McBride.
After a successful run at the Edmonton Fringe Fest, EMT is remounting the show for two performances (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) on October 1, to mark International Seniors Day. See firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets; adults $15, youth/seniors $10. Shows are at Woodcroft Community Hall, 13915 115 Ave.