It was a pretty standard rehearsal for a play that still didn’t open for several more weeks. There were some missed lines, some props that didn’t work out quite right. But the cast of Night Call Nurses, or What the Health?!?! soldiered on.
You notice something right away about this cast: Gray hair. A few wrinkles. Or more. They are The Seasoned Performers, Alabama’s only senior adult theatre company, performing a play about aging, for seniors – but enjoyable to everyone else.
Andy Duxbury, M.D., is the playwright. He’s had a love of theatre since he was in high school, but his career path took him down a different road. Now Duxbury is a geriatrician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a lucky man who combines his passion for theatre with a mission to improve society’s approach to aging.
Night Call Nurses is the second play Duxbury has written for The Seasoned Performers. His first, Grimm and Bear it, was a comedy in which the aging villains of fairy tales learn a lesson about self-empowerment and the values that seniors bring to our society. The Seasoned Performers toured for two years with that show, ultimately performing it at the National Senior Theatre Festival in North Carolina. Night Call Nurses, as did its predecessor, has a message about aging.
“Night Call Nurses is about three aging actresses, who in their younger days had appeared on a local radio daytime soap opera called Night Call Nurses,” says Duxbury. “Now in their 70s and 80s, they are called back to the radio station for a reunion show and must deal with their own health issues, their place in society and the patronizing attitude of the Baby Boomer who runs the station.”
The show has five characters and a minimal set, and beginning in April the troupe will pile the production into a van and take it on tour to senior centers, libraries, schools and churches — wherever they can find an audience, young or old.
“Children and teens can learn a lot from the show and from seeing seniors being actively engaged and engaging,” says Ellise Mayor, the artistic director for The Seasoned Performers. “There’s a message for the baby boomers, too, who are trying to avoid aging and pretend that it’s not happening. Fact of the matter is we’re born, we live, we die.”
But before we die, Duxbury says, seniors have a vital role to play in society.
“It’s important that seniors fulfill the natural role of the elder of the tribe,” he says. “To be the repository of wisdom and leadership and the carrier of culture and meaning to younger generations. It’s the role of the parent to provide shelter, safety and food to their kids. It’s the role of the grandparent to teach those children who they are and what it means to be who they are.”
Duxbury is a faculty member with the UAB Center for Aging, which has collaborated with The Seasoned Performers to allow him the liberty to be both physician and playwright. The messages he delivers in clinic to his 70-, 80- and 90-year-old patients differ little from the ones that permeate Night Call Nurses.
In its original form, the play focused on senior empowerment. But in rehearsals, Duxbury and Mayor, both baby boomers, saw there was a valuable message for their youth-obsessed generation. Just as seniors must embrace their role as the village elder, then the boomers also need to accept their position on life’s timeline. In short, the play tells everyone the same thing — act your age.
“We all grow old — it’s the journey of life,” says Mayor. “So it’s important that we don’t try to hold on to youth, to pretend that we’re still in our 20s or 30s. We will have important things to say in our 60s and our 70s — things no one else will have the experience or life-lessons to say.”
“Our culture is so youth-centered that there is not much understanding of the wisdom of age,” says Duxbury. “My goal as a playwright and a geriatrician is to help people — young, old and in between — understand that age brings knowledge, experience and value. I want seniors to know they are valuable and have something to say. And I want the rest of us to realize that we ought to be listening to them.”
Night Call Nurses performances began in April and will run for up to four months, touring through 16 counties in Central Alabama. A performance schedule is online at www.seasonedperformers.org.