Around Tampa Bay, SAGES scenes are playing with purpose

CLEARWATER — Feisty Grandma Claire took a stumble and broke her arm while stepping out on the porch for a glass of wine one night. Stubborn Bob swears he can drive his granddaughter to the mall. Sweet Mary Martha has passed out for an online romance scam.

SAGES co-founder and playwright Linda Goldman writes comedies and dramas in hour-long one-act plays to educate and entertain seniors, their family members and caregivers. [ SAGES Theater ]

And those are just three of the overly realistic characters playwright Linda Goldman is creating for Senior Actors Guild and Education Services (SAGES), the Tampa Bay nonprofit she co-founded with executive director Christine Hamacher in 2019 to bring “Plays with Purpose” to adult community theater.

Unlike the silly, stereotypical old-age humor, Goldman’s one-act, hour-long plays are cleverly integrated with safe cues for aging health and lifestyle changes. The dialogue rings true because Goldman, 76, is his own target audience.

“We don’t lecture…we show the right choices and the wrong choices,” said the retired post office revenue analyst.

“We know things happen with age, but we have risks that we want to take even at this age. We always want to learn, to have a purpose, to be self-activated according to our own abilities.

His first piece, deny gravity, tackles fall prevention. Next, false baloney, old people play dominoes and trade stories that turn out to be scams. In A negotiatora widower wants to keep his car as his cognitive abilities decline.

By March 2020, as the coronavirus began to surge, more than 2,500 seniors, family members and caregivers had been educated and entertained by deny gravity. According to Hamacher, partnerships with 911 and relief agencies have resulted in a documented reduction in home fall-related emergency calls throughout Pinellas County.

Prompted by such potentially life-saving data, the two women wouldn’t let the pandemic close the curtain on SAGES’ life-saving programming.

Fortunately, in October 2019, before the all-senior, all-volunteer cast and crew, plus some EMS responders in cameo roles, had ever heard of COVID-19, Hamacher arranged to film a performance of deny gravity at the Bilheimer Capitol Theater in Clearwater.

The professional recording was copied to DVDs for grant-funded “Do-It-Yourself” kits and distributed to local communities over the age of 55. Goldman has also written and produced a series of comedy skits featuring helpful COVID information for YouTube and the SAGES website.

Another pandemic innovation will continue, the SAGES Readers Theater, a “voice performance,” as Goldman calls it, without costumes, sets or props. She mixes parts of her scripts with literary expressions and personal memories of the participants, “maybe their first car or the smell of french fries on the boardwalk,” the Clearwater resident explained.

Actors Judy Landis and Max Roberts in Phoney Baloney, an original play by non-profit theater SAGES shines a light on the reality on both sides of a scam call.
Actors Judy Landis and Max Roberts in Phoney Baloney, an original play by non-profit theater SAGES shines a light on the reality on both sides of a scam call. [ SAGES Theater ]
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In October 2020, when he felt safe to perform False Baloney to a small masked audience, Hamacher taped this show and packaged it into another 100 free DIY kits for Tampa Bay’s senior communities.

Now, she optimistically plans to present at least seven in-person shows in 2022, with some additional readings staged in Spanish. A negotiator The premiere is scheduled for April 16 at the Catherine Hickman Theater in Gulfport while other venues are sought.

“The only requirements are a publicly accessible stage with a secure backstage area and good parking,” Hamacher, 54, said, noting that there are never any ticket fees associated with Play with Purpose, according to to the SAGES copyright license agreement.

“It’s really unusual for a playwright to designate their work to be performed for free,” she said. “That’s how much we care about raising awareness about these topics and replicating the pieces across the country. Most seniors’ communities have some sort of theater group and we think they will welcome it.

Many other public service themes play in Goldman’s mind, as she realizes “the phenomenal positive emotional appeal of live theater.”

“…I had no idea it would be a success…how many people we would reach. I feel like we are saving lives and improving the well-being of older people,” she said.

“I can’t believe I have this opportunity at this point in my life to do something good that I enjoy so much.”

Linda Mastry is participating in the Readers Theater program at the Sunshine Senior Center in St. Petersburg in the spring of 2021.
Linda Mastry is participating in the Readers Theater program at the Sunshine Senior Center in St. Petersburg in the spring of 2021. [ SAGES Theater ]

If you are going to

A negotiator will be played at 2 p.m. on April 16 at the Catherine Hickman Theater in Gulfport. Free entrance.

Sets Play with Goal featuring a DVD of a professionally recorded SAGES Theater performance, complete with scripts, viewing guidelines, posters and audience comment forms, can be ordered from sagestheater.org.

To volunteer, audition, or schedule a SAGES performance, call (727) 536-7076.

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