A dramatic précis of the perks and perils of extreme old age, written by an award-winning Canadian theatre director, will be performed by local readers for a Gibsons audience this weekend.
Kathryn Shaw composed the one-act play Super Seniors following her retirement in 2020 as artistic director of Langara University’s Studio 58 theatre training program.
Shaw is a member of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and was identified by the Vancouver Sun as one of B.C.’s 100 Most Influential Women. She has directed theatre companies across Canada and taught professional and community actors in British Columbia, Winnipeg and Halifax.
In the 1990s, as part of a theatre company called Angry Actors, Shaw contributed material to original works addressing the AIDS epidemic. Since then, her professional pace as an educator and in-demand director inhibited her authorial instincts.
Until now. “I only retired two years ago,” she said, “and between that and the pandemic, it kind of gave me time to try to think about what else I was going to do in this last chapter of my life. I’d had an idea rolling around in my mind for a while: somehow I wanted to get my mother, my grandmother and myself all in the same space in a play.”
Her mother lived to the age of 105. Her grandmother died at 106. Shaw modelled the play’s three centenarian protagonists after them — and imagines what she might be like when passing the 100-year mark.
“I want the characters to have dignity,” Shaw said, “each of them in their own way. We laugh at them and in a way they have the ability to laugh at themselves too.”
The character of Elizabeth, played by Marilyn Browning in the Gibsons production, is impatient for eternal rest — but is cursed with severely tenacious genes. Hildy, depicted by Danda Humphreys, intends to live forever while pursuing romantic entanglements with eligible octogenarians. Sally Williams plays Mildred, whose memory loss is punctuated by uncommonly strong recall of song lyrics and the detailed taxonomies of beasts and bugs.
The play’s first public reading took place in 2022 at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre. It was refined during a workshop in Nanaimo held in early February.
The Sunshine Coast reading will be part of the ongoing Off the Page series, which features new work by B.C. playwrights.
“We had our largest post-COVID turnout in January,” said Off the Page co-producer Janet Hodgkinson, referring to that month’s performance of A Noisy Noise by playwright Amiel Gladstone. The playreading series was inspired by Granthams Landing songwriter and dramatist David King, who died in 2021.
The reading of Super Seniors will also feature Corina Akeson in the role of an inattentive care aide perpetually distracted by her mobile phone.
Shaw will be in attendance for the Gibsons reading of her debut script. Meanwhile, she is already at work on her next work, a solo show.
Admission to Super Seniors is by donation. The reading takes place on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Heritage Playhouse in Upper Gibsons.