Performing as an elderly mother experiencing the full range of emotions that accompany an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is draining for Oak Bay actor Janie Morris, but so very rewarding.
The character is part of the play I’m Still Here, one of a number of productions in the Target Theatre Society’s repertoire exploring seniors issues with empathy and humour.
Performing the show recently at the Brentwood Bay Seniors Centre, “there was a lot of emotion from the audience but they needed to express that,” says Artistic Director Tony Cain.
Target Theatre, and through it the Target Players, has been educating, illuminating and entertaining Greater Victoria’s seniors, their friends and families since 1985.
Founded by the late June Boston, topics explored range from Alzheimer’s disease to relationships, safe driving to prostate cancer. Some works come from outside playwrights, others they write themselves.
“We are a theatre company of senior actors – 55-plus – who specifically perform plays about seniors concerns and issues,” explains Cain, noting all the plays have to be educational, or create awareness, but they are also entertaining.
The group has a number of plays in its repertoire and on Saturday, hosts Are You of Age?, a three-play event at Intrepid Theatre Club to raise awareness of the vital work they do, and funds to help them do it.
“This is a fundraiser but it’s also a way to show what we do to the community at large,” says Morris, also Target Theatre Society president.
“People should come to see the show if they’re interested in the subject matter and consider (getting involved).”
Representative of their diverse repertoire, the line-up includes the celebrated I’m still Here, a moving story about living with dementia, Post-Its, a play that reflects on a 40-year marriage in dialogue exchanged via Post-it notes, and I’m Herbert, a play about a conversation between an older husband and wife always in a state of confusion, thanks to a lifetime of stories, previous relationships and mix-ups between the two.
“Regardless of the context of the play, there’s always humour,” says Oak Bay actor Peter McNab, who stars in Post-Its.
A great deal of research forms the foundation of the works, whether it’s the physical, medical and psychological impacts of dementia, for example, or the impact on the families of a loved one experiencing prostate cancer.
The well-researched No Big Deal takes on the issue of prostate cancer, “aimed at the family members and relatives who have to deal with the men who have to deal with this,” Cain says. “Humour is critical in these kinds of plays about serious issues like dementia and prostate cancer.
Dialogue often comes from conversations with real people, says Tim Watters, an Oak Bay actor and sound designer.
I’m Still Here is part of the training at Victoria Hospice, performed for doctors, nurses, psychologists, aids and others.
“We’re trying to promote this specifically for families who are trying to cope with their loved ones who have been diagnosed and how to deal with humour as they progress through it.”
While funny, the stories are also poignant, revealed in the question and answer sessions that follow each performance.
“Every time, somebody always says, ‘You people should be more well-known,’” says McNab.
At a performance in Nanaimo, recently diagnosed audience members felt able to open up for the first time because they felt they were in a safe environment.
“People are very willing to share their experiences and often thankful to be able to talk about it,” Morris reflects.
“We learn lots too – like the power of music,” McNab adds.
Among Cain’s favourites is Age on Wheels, a show about safe driving for seniors told in both a long and short version with great songs.
“This is a great light comedy that makes people laugh, but we’re still getting a message across, we’re educating them,” he says.
The group recently received a grant from the Hearing Loss Society of Canada to write a play exploring the topic of hearing loss, Cain says.
The troupe undertook about a dozen performances last year.
Group numbers fluctuate but currently sit around 20 and the goal is to have two actors ready to go with each role.
Rehearsals are at Langham Court Theatre two mornings each week, with performances out at various venues in the community.
Learn more at targettheatre.ca.