‘Something in Preserve’: Local senior citizens to stage musical showcasing the elder perspective
Looking to tell a story of romance and realism, humanity and humor from a senior citizen perspective, a group of local writers will stage a one-night-only production of “Something in Preserve” on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
The musical, described as a “play within a play,” was written by senior citizens and is about a group of seniors who write a musical. Rounding out the plot are a few love stories, 18 original songs and even a villain.
“It’s about relationships and saying that we’re still alive and still creating,” said co-writer Ilene Hubbs, noting that the age range for the creative team is 76 to 92.
At the center of the story are two romances: one between a recent widow and the man trying to win her affections, and the other involving a man who falls in love though he is married to a woman who recently had a stroke and is unable to communicate.
“People think there is no romance past a certain age, and that’s a crock. There is romance until you’re dead,” said director Courtney Flanagan, who taught theater at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla for more than 30 years. “This musical suggests that romance never stops. It’s not always as simple as when you’re young, but it can happen. I think that’s a positive aspect of this production.”
Hubbs said the character who recently lost her husband “doesn’t want to fall in love again just to lose the new man, too, but her friends want her to have that second chance at love.”
The other romantic thread provides a place for the songs to shine, Hubbs added.
“There is a man whose wife has had a stroke. He doesn’t want to leave her, but they have no relationship. She’s basically catatonic,” Hubbs said. “There is a song he sings to her, and she sings from her wheelchair, but the song she is singing is in her head. He sings the line ‘Where is she?’ and she sings the line ‘It’s still me.’ Meanwhile, he and a female friend are attracted to each other but they know their love can never be because he doesn’t want to leave the marriage. At one point, they sing a song together, but it is to the audience because they can’t sing to each other.”
The villain is an employee of the retirement community where the central characters live who refuses to let them stage the play. But even he takes a turn in the end.
“The second act is big for our villain,” Hubbs said. “That’s where we have all kinds of musical numbers. We have a line of women of walkers with twinkling lights on them that do a number. It’s charming.”
While the creative team has some experience in the theater industry, much of the cast does not. One of the performers is La Jolla resident Fran Zimmerman, who said she never imagined being in a staged show.
“This was a chance to do things I never did before,” Zimmerman said. “To sing and dance on a stage is something I never dreamt we would be able to do. There is an excitement in doing things we never did, because we were not actors in our professional lives. We were teachers and accountants, and we get to do this.”
The show is “about people our age, our problems, the good things and the bad, and how we deal with the problems in our lives,” she added. “It has humor. It has poignancy. There are characters … that face the things people our age deal with. We don’t see things in movies and in literature, but it is so real. I think it is very meaningful.”
The production was years in the making. The play started as a dream for a group that met through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a membership program at UC San Diego that offers learning opportunities for adults 50 and older.
“We first sat down together in 2015 because one of the other members of the group wanted to write an original musical,” Hubbs said. “I loved the idea, so we got two more people that wanted to do it, too.
“We kept meeting and developing the story, and as we developed the story, we would develop a song based on what happened. When we were finished with the first draft, we put it on as a workshop at Osher for an audience and they loved it. We worked on it again for a year and put it on again.”
“When I agreed to direct, they had done two music-stand versions, and I said I would only direct if people would memorize it, which was harder for the older people in the show,” Flanagan said.
But they did it.
“The commitment that some of the people put into the show was inspiring,” Flanagan said. “One woman can’t drive and she has to arrange rides to get to rehearsal. I think they were moved by older people writing a musical about what it is to be old, to give their lives a sense of purpose. That’s what doing this show did for those that were in it. It was a fabulous feeling of accomplishment.”
The play was staged at North Coast Repertory in Solana Beach (but not as part of the theater’s production lineup) and was reworked again.
“It was fascinating to see the characters that we talked about so much that they have become real, come to life as we saw it in our minds. … I felt so proud,” Hubbs said. “We tried to come up with things everyone can relate to. I think all ages will relate because even if you are not a senior, you know one. There are things that are in common. We want them to say, ‘That’s my mom or dad.’
“The seniors that have seen it ... say it is relatable, which makes this feel like the biggest accomplishment of my life. I’ve done a lot of things, but writing a play from scratch with three men is a real feat. We all have different minds and had to find something we could all agree on. It was a wonderful experience.”
‘Something in Preserve’
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14
Where: Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla
Cost: $25 general admission, $20 for JCC members
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