New theatrical performance class casts spell on seniors

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Shelly Birkelo
Tuesday, June 17, 2014

JANESVILLE—A first-ever collaboration between the Janesville Senior Center and the Janesville Performing Arts Center has area seniors stretching their acting muscles.

Monday was the second weekly gathering of the Encore theatrical performance class.

Fern Cupertino and Margaret Wittenberg were assigned to read the script for "Mission Radio" written by Cupertino.

The rest of the class was cast in the play "Forbidden" written by student Edmund Skwarlo.

Instructor Ron Brown shared some thoughts.

"I think the audience would love the short, funny scenes," Brown said of Cupertino's script focused on real-life experiences.

He offered suggestions: "Think Texas and not just the accent. Throw in a few chuckles. You wouldn't just read the radio report. This is something you're doing together. So play it up back and forth with each other."

Brown praised Skwarlo's work.

"It goes off quite well. People are going to chuckle at it."

The partnership between JPAC and the senior center is a first and provides an introduction to theater for seniors, Brown said.

"It gives them an opportunity to experience the theater and use their minds and imaginations, which is very important to keep their brain cells working," he said.

Senior Center Recreation Programmer Pat Tobin said the class "gives people a chance to try something creative they maybe never have done before but have always had an idea they might want to."

Mindy Curtis, JPAC education and outreach director, said JPAC wants to serve every age group and all types of people because "everyone has something to offer creatively."

Twelve seniors have enrolled in the theatrical performance class. More will be accepted if they missed the opportunity, Tobin said.

"We can learn something new at any age," Curtis said.

"People want to push their boundaries and challenge themselves whether they are 8 or 80, and I think that's why we have had the response and excitement we have," Curtis said.

At the end of the eight-week class, the group will perform in a theatrical revue at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at JPAC, 408 S. Main St.

Skwarlo, 72, signed up out of curiosity. The South Beloit, Illinois, man "got bitten by the acting bug" more than five years ago, he said.

"I've never performed on a big stage and wanted to see what it would be like," he said.

"You always can learn something new and can't underestimate the opportunity to advance your hobby," Skwarlo said.

Skwarlo was open to learning new theatrical skills and to meeting new and interesting people.

Rose Ann Arnold, 75, Evansville, performed puppet shows 20 years ago for Janesville kindergartners. She decided to give the class a try "just to have some fun, do something different and meet other people."

Brown has more than 30 years experience with local amateur theater groups throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. He said the seniors need to work on developing their characters.

"To play a character, you need to know who that character is. Otherwise, you're just showing up and reading lines," Brown said.

"If they can get their character development down, that's the greatest compliment you can give an actor."

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