Feature Archive

Acting Your Age

Theater helps seniors.

WebMD Feature

July 17, 2000 -- When Nona Bingham of Portland, Ore., retired from her job as a supermarket clerk at age 65, she enrolled in oil painting and ceramic classes to keep busy. "But that didn't do it for me," says Bingham, a self-described workaholic.

So she joined an acting group for senior citizens at a local community center and threw herself into rehearsals and tap dancing lessons. The group's first production, a variety show, drew an audience of four people. Now, 20 years later, her Northwest Senior Theatre troupe travels nationwide and draws audiences of 5,000 people.

"I got another life out of this," says Bingham, who now tap dances and performs comedy. At age 85, she's not quite the oldest in her troupe -- performers' ages range from 59 to 89.

The Trend

Senior theater groups are booming, with more than 200 in operation across the United States, and others starting up, says Bonnie Vorenberg, an expert in gerontology and theater in Portland, who has written a book, Senior Theatre Connections: The First Directory of Senior Theatre Performing Groups, Professionals, and Resources. The names of some of the groups hint at their underlying liveliness and sense of humor: Geritol Frolics, The Seasoned Performers, Extended Run Players.

As people live longer, they're often looking for ways to add quality to their lives, says Vorenberg, who started the Northwest Senior Theatre group. "Creativity and the arts are where quality of life comes from," she says.