Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Don't Miss: Young at Heartland Showcase Friday

With Young at Heartland's Showcase at Heartland Theatre coming up at 1 pm on Friday, I interviewed YAH founder Ann White (pictured at left) to get the inside scoop.

How did Young at Heartland get started? Can you tell us a little bit about where you got the idea?
I knew a number of seniors who now had the time and interest in acting but were finding the opportunities for senior actors to be very limited. My mother had been in a nursing home and had no interest in Bingo but loved attending theater. These two trains of thought came together with the idea of forming an acting workshop for senior citizens. This would be a chance for seniors to entertain seniors.

I also felt that a senior acting workshop would make seniors more informed audience members and build a core of actors who would have the skills needed to provide local theaters with a strong audition pool.

I first presented this idea to the Heartland Theatre Board in 2003. The board supported the idea and in 2004 a McLean County Arts Center Grant provided the funding needed for a trial program of a six-session workshop. The success of that workshop led to the formation of Young at Heartland. I have served as the program director since its inception.

How has YAH changed since the beginning?
Our first workshop met twice a week for six weeks and that has evolved into weekly classes of 2 hours that meet for two months in the spring and for another two-month session in the fall.

Is there anyone who has been instrumental in YAH’s success that you’d like to recognize?
We have had talented instructors from John Ficca, Connie deVeer, and Kay Lynn Perry to D.Ann Jones. This year marks D.Ann’s fourth year with us.

Terri Ryburn joined us in 2005 and her original plays have given us marvelous material that is relevant and interesting to seniors. Through her encouragement other YAH members are now writing plays for us. Her book of plays Age on Stage is the 2010 best seller for ArtAge Senior Theatre Resource.

How many participants are there this year?
This year we set a record of 30 participants and we have a waiting list hoping to join us this fall. Our first workshop had ten members and five of those are still active in YAH.

Can you give us a glimpse into what happens during a typical YAH class or session?
Our classes begin with physical and vocal warm-ups. D.Ann leads us in acting exercises that improve concentration and articulation. Members work in groups of 2 to 4 to create brief scenes or to improvise on a given idea or topic. Activities to hone the use of mind, body, and voice are invaluable to developing acting skills. Auditions are held for the season’s scenes. Once parts are assigned then the members of each scene work through script analysis and character analysis as they prepare to rehearse.

D.Ann has said, “These aspiring actors are energetic, great fun and ‘up for anything.’ They are not afraid to tackle anything put before them and they put forth their best effort.”

Young at Heartland strives to build an ensemble of seniors who share the values of continuing education, creative self-expression, and community outreach. It is designed to accommodate and support performers’ comfort levels with memorization. The goal is to find appropriate pathways to showcase performers’ gifts in a fun, stress-free atmosphere.

Are there any particular moments that stand out in your mind as highlights from over the years?
Enduring friendships have resulted from YAH membership and new members are warmly included. A strong sense of family has developed among the members.

In our 2007 season Vicki Hill and Larry Eggan were performing Terri’s “Edge of Forever.” This play is about a couple getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. At our performance in LeRoy there was a couple about to celebrate their 50th. They were delighted by the show and wanted to have their picture taken with those actors.

Carol Scott and I get repeated requests to bring back the Southern comedy “Ethel’s Closed Casket.”

What can we look forward to at the Showcase this Friday? Can you tell us a little about what or who we’ll be seeing?
There will be 22 of our YAH performers in the Showcase this year. There will be another new play by Terri Ryburn and four other scenes written by YAH members. The theme is surprises and there will be plenty of those. Five of our members are also cast in this year’s Ten Minute Festival so this a chance to see them in different roles.

What’s the biggest challenge in putting on a YAH season?
Our biggest challenge is to find enough “senior appropriate” material. The scenes need to be believable for senior actors and engaging for senior audiences. All but one of our shows is “on the road.” That means we are coming into the “homes” of many seniors and as guests we want a show that will not offend or be a downer.

Our locations for shows vary from dining rooms and basements to sanctuaries and multi-media rooms. There can even be door alarms or P.A. announcements at some places. That keeps us on our toes!

We are now getting many requests for our shows so our schedule of 12 June/ July shows and 8 in October fills very rapidly.

What’s the best part for you?
It’s been terrific to have an idea be met with such enthusiasm. The YAH members are so filled with vitality and love of life. The bonds of friendship that this experience has created have enriched my life immensely. It has been so rewarding to watch the confidence, skills, ingenuity, and creativity of these seniors flower and create a dynamic acting troupe.

Thanks, Ann!

Young at Heartland will perform their summer Showcase at 1 pm on Friday the 18th at Heartland Theatre.


  1. Wonderful interview of the wonderful Ann! What a great success!

  2. The Showcase was lovely. I hope everyone got a chance to see it who wanted to.

    I am always so impressed with Ann and her vision and commitment. She created YAH out of wholecloth, after all.