Acting (at) Their Age: Senior group in Gary embraces acting craft as golden opportunity

2012-09-23T00:00:00Z Acting (at) Their Age: Senior group in Gary embraces acting craft as golden opportunityBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Sophia Watts says she never expected to be an actress.

"I'm in my mid-60s and I love it," said Watts, who lives in Gary and is learning about what she calls "the stages of life" from teacher Morning Bishop.

"Acting lets you live another life, and you can be any age."

Watts is one of the students at The Morning Bishop Theatre Playhouse, housed in the Charter School of the Dunes at 860 N. Lake Street in Gary.

"We are coming up on our anniversary," said Bishop, who also lives in Gary and has worked as an actress in Chicagoland theater for decades.

"I started the theater company on Dec. 9, 1982. And 30 years later, we are still reaching audiences of all ages."

Bishop describes her classes, which can include as few as five students to as many as a dozen, as "a commitment to the region by providing quality performances, arts training and therapeutic theatre."

She said grants and financial support for her programs come from donations and the National Able Fund.

Watts said while she, along with other seniors, have also learned varied talents during their sessions at Charter School of the Dunes, from quilting to crafts, it's acting which has been "the most inspiring" to many.

Bishop and the group are busy working on two performances that open later this month.

"I always say the seniors who sign up for my acting program, including some pupils in their late 70s, probably learn more from me about the technical aspects of theater than they ever expected to come away with," Bishop said.

"And what makes our productions unique is that each skit or short play focuses on themes, such as life skills, networking and employment opportunities for older people."

Bishop said she also finds many of the students, who are from throughout the region, discover they have "untapped talents" never realized.

"For so many seniors, they never realize how many more abilities they have until there's someone to guide and foster the possibilities," Bishop said.

"And sometimes, a gift can just appear. Even my own daughter, McKenya, who I often use as an example, never realized the true path she wanted pursue in life. She was going to be a lawyer. And then one day, after having a small part in a production, she knew her love and inner drive was for acting. Today, she teaches theater in Alexander, Va."

Bishop also uses puppets and teaches the skills of puppetry performance to students, which she says serves as good physical therapy, while the lines memorization of the acting craft helps with what she calls "mental exercise."

On Sept. 26, the senior acting group is presenting a production about older Americans in the workforce called "You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover."

"I like to describe this story as something similar to a skit that deals with workforce training for seniors," Bishop said.

"We like to keep our productions educational, but also entertaining."

On Sept. 28, the group will travel to Carter G. Woodson Library in Gary to present a free dinner theater presentation of "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," a noted play by Lonne Elder III that first premiered in 1969, about lead character Russel B. Parker, who owns a floundering barbershop on 126th Street in Harlem.

"We have so much fun preparing and performing our shows for audiences," Bishop said.

"And best of all, it's wonderful to see so many late-in-life bows on stage with smiles of every age."

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