Bifocals, in focus

A quasi-independent arm of the Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, Bifocals offers older adults the allure of the footlights, creativity and plenty of jovial companionship. And a paycheck – albeit small – doesn’t hurt either.

“It’s a very welcoming environment” said Walker, a retired state assistant superintendent of education. “It draws you in.”

By and for older adults
“The premise is that we use senior artists to perform affordable programming around town,” explained Bruce Miller, artistic director. “It offers the opportunity for paid work to the theater artists and the opportunity for an afternoon’s entertainment to audiences at senior centers.”

Artists stay busy with Bifocals’ hectic touring program (they just finished a month-long tour of “The Cedar Chest Letters”), visiting more than a dozen locations some months and offering onstage productions at the Barksdale several times a year.

Bifocals will present its current show, “Olives on the Front Porch,” Oct. 20-21 and Nov. 8 in the Barksdale Theatre Willow Lawn’s upstairs lobby. The lighthearted play deals with a 60-something couple who discover a baby as they go out to fetch the morning paper.

“Olives” is directed by H. Lynn Smith and features actors Anne Carr Regan, Cary Houseman and Mickey Black. It was penned by Janet Chenoweth.

The focus is on local products; a scriptwriting competition this year produced two shows that the group will perform this season. Using scripts by area writers offers playwrights a chance to see their works come to life and it also saves money on royalties.

Service to community
Keeping an eye on expenses means the group can afford to tour to some retirement facilities that can’t afford much of a donation, an important part of the group’s mission, Miller said.

Bifocals means a lot to the communities it serves, and it also is a valuable part of life for many area artists who participate.

“Theater is important,” said actor/director Ed Coleman, who has appeared on area stages for years and is an active member of Bifocals projects. “It deepens your character, your experience in life and makes you more well-rounded. It’s a chance for cooperation, for give-and-take.

“It’s an outlet for creative expression. So many people have that inside them, especially older people.”

Modeled on similar programs
Barksdale’s Bifocals program rose in 2002 from the ashes of similar but defunct company, said Miller, and used Richmond’s HeartStrings choral program for older adults as a model.

Miller credits his mother, a lifelong theater lover, as part of the inspiration for the project. “She was a Broadway baby, a native of New York City who loved going to the theater,” he said. “But she reached a point in her life where that was no longer possible.”

Hence, a touring program that brought live theater into senior centers and retirement communities, “short, uplifting comedies that tour to places where people who are no longer ambulatory can see them.”

Audition notice
In recent years, Ellen Bode, Alice Schreiner and Walker have taken the lead in organizing Bifocals productions. As the productions constantly need new faces and new talents, organizers are on the lookout for artists – even wannabes – 55 and older with any interest in theater.

The rehearsal and performance schedules can be hectic at times. Staged readings allow scripts onstage, but some shows require memorization. Artists find their cars stuffed with set pieces and props.

But it’s easy to get drawn in.

“It is absolutely worth it when you see the reaction of the audiences,” promised Walker.

* * *

What: ‘Olives on the Front Porch,’” a production by the Bifocals Theatre Project

When: Oct. 20-21, 1 p.m. and Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn

Tickets: $10 apiece; call 282-2620

Audition notices: or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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