By Jeffery Whitfield
Making mistakes in front of large groups of residents is nothing new for 62-year-old Carmen Ray, a part-time staff member at the Clayton County Senior Center in Riverdale.
“Different things happen on stage,” said Ray, who portrayed country music star Minnie Pearl in a production of “Hee-Haw” earlier this year at the center. “Sometimes we make mistakes and we get a chance to laugh at ourselves.”
Ray is one of several senior citizens age 55 and older who have participated in productions by the Inceniorators, an acting group started last year at the center. Ray also is the center's volunteer coordinator.
“Within the last year we have begun to find a lot of talent in the aging population,” said Anne Weber, manager of the Clayton County Senior Center. Weber is one of several of the center's staff members who has helped coordinate and act in the group's plays.
Since the group was founded last year, it has performed productions such as “Hee-Haw,” based on the TV show from the 1960s, as well as original plays such as “Keeping Up with the Jones's.” The play focuses on women from a fictitious town in south Georgia who become engrossed with the lives of new neighbors.
Weber said the group, operated under the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department and overseen by a non-profit council, is eventually hoping to expand and include more senior citizens in future productions as well as potentially use bigger venues. Shows now are held at the center's dining area.
“Funding is always an issue when we have a project,” said Weber, who added that the center and its staff often bears the responsibility of finding materials for assembling productions.
Weber recalled, for example, that a costume rental for an Elvis outfit for a production cost $100 per night.
“We are in an infancy and we are ready to send out letters” to seek help from organizations such as local high schools to assist with productions, she said. High schools could assist with developing backdrops for productions. Many shows such as “Hee-Haw” use backdrops. “Hee-Haw” used a set that included a cornfield, modeled after one seen on the television series, May said.
Weber also said that more senior citizens could be utilized in future productions for acting roles as well as other supporting a future production's lighting or sound efforts.
The group's proposed Christmas production has been canceled. The Inceniorators' next play will be “Loving You,” which will be held at the center in February. The play focuses on the exploits of a young man who finds a wallet. Shows typically feature an average audience size of 170 to 220 members, Weber said.
The plays typically feature a lunch or dinner. Admission can cost up to $12 per show.
“We charge enough to pay for dinner and pay the county coffers,” Weber said.
The Inceniorators are one of several groups the center has for senior citizens to utilize. Other groups consist of Variety Theater, which can feature residents acting out the roles of famous stars such as Hank Williams Sr. Residents can also participate in the Apollo Theater, which is based on the popular theater in New York, N.Y.