PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD Meet Jill Drexler, whose third act is just beginning

Jill Drexler chats on the patio of her White Sands apartment.
Jill Drexler chats on the patio of her White Sands apartment.

Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to or call us at (858) 875-5950.

Just because you live in a retirement community doesn’t mean you have to retire. At 70, Jill Drexler is still the artistic director of the Scripps Ranch Theater — which is in its 41st year — and she teaches six cardio and two muscle-stretching classes a week at the Mission Valley YMCA.

Drexler moved with her 74-year-old husband, Roger, from their house in Pacific Beach to White Sands La Jolla last year. In the community, she took over as artistic director for something called the Readers’ Theatre.

Once a month, a cast of amateur performers, all over age 65, performs a different play in the Jack Patton Community Room. Started about five years ago by resident Natasha Josefowitz as a group that read plays in each other’s living rooms, it has blossomed into the White Sands event to catch. (For October’s reading of A.R. Gurney’s “Sylvia,” Dexler reported, people were turned away for fear of the fire marshal showing up.)

So you hooked up with this theater company when you moved here and took it over right away?

“Yes. A man named Frank Morral was in charge of it, who was willing, ready and anxious to give it up. He asked if I could take it over and I thought it would be fun. It’s different because I’m used to working with professional actors. These are wonderful, smart people — very educated — but they’re not professional actors, so you’re just in a different place. Readers’ Theatre is very different from a show. The blessing is you don’t have to learn your lines. So, if you’re an older person, that’s a joy. But you’re not just reading it.”

Theater was something you always enjoyed?

“Yeah, since I’ve been little. I had my first professional acting gig in college.”

Was it your dream to be on Broadway?

“No, I thought for a while I would try to work in movies when we lived in L.A. But I started too late. I started at 30. And I would go to see agents and they would say, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t take anybody over 18.’ So it was like, ‘OK, I guess I’m old.’ I did some film work, though. I joined the Screen Actor’s Guild, but I never really liked L.A. very much. And I didn’t like the business. It’s a really tough business, and I wasn’t cut out for it. I didn’t have thick-enough skin for it.”

When did you move to San Diego and why?

“In the mid-‘70s, we moved to Pacific Beach. Roger got a job as a hospital administrator at Sharp. And by that time, I was in grad school for theater, so I transferred to San Diego State and got my degree there. Then I got a second master’s in psychology. But I tried to be a psychologist and didn’t like it very much. I just saw so many crazy people who wanted to talk about why everybody else was their problem but they weren’t their own problem, you know? It wasn’t for me.”

Why did you move into White Sands?

“We lived on Soledad Mountain Road for a long time. And I loved our house. It’s not like I wanted to get rid of it. It’s just that, sometimes you just know it’s time. The moving was an incredible amount of stress and hard work, and I don’t think, if I had waited another 10 years, I could have done it.”

Was moving from a house to a two-bedroom apartment a crunch? How do you and your husband avoid getting on each other’s nerves?

“That, I was worried about. But I don’t feel squashed. Maybe if we moved into a studio or a one-bedroom, but we have a two-bedroom. It’s plenty. I had closets full of clothes. But you don’t need half the stuff you think you need.”

You don’t subscribe to the stereotype of a retirement-home resident who’s waiting to die.

“No. As a matter of fact, if you move here when you’re waiting to die, you’re certainly not going to go to yoga class and go to the opera. There are people who live here who have their meals delivered. Well, we have a dining room with an ocean out there. And you’re not strong enough to go? That’s a shame. You moved to a nice place but you moved here too late. Now you can’t enjoy half the things that are here.

Obviously, will we move again? Probably not. We probably will die here. But I hope not for a while. I’m not ready!”

IF YOU GO: The White Sands’ Readers’ Theatre group presents Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 (time and date subject to change) in the Jack Patton Community Room at White Sands La Jolla, 7450 Olivetas Ave. (858) 281-5335 ext. 5204.