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Seniors as Stars Troupe Hard Work but Fun

(Photo courtesy Seniors as Stars)

It’s a well-known—and much explored—theory that keeping mentally and physically active is beneficial to older adults. Not only that, engagement in the arts can have a transformative effect on the elderly.  We’re exploring that idea on today’s KSMU’s “Sense of Community” reports. 

(Background audio up)

I’ve just arrived at Springfield’s Southside Senior Center at Fremont and Seminole, just south of the Mercy hospital complex.  Things are about to get a lot livelier as I meet up with Phyllis Frick, who directs a local theatre program for senior citizens called “Seniors as Stars.”  Phyllis is a Lebanon native who spent nearly 20 years in New York City performing on Broadway in the chorus and some small parts, as well as participating in five national tours, in shows such as “Li’l Abner,” “Carnival!” and “The Boys From Syracuse.”

PHYLLIS FRICK: And I also worked at the Copacabana, and also at Radio City. So it was a great time for me, I enjoyed it.  I met a lot of interesting, and some very well-known people.  My professional name was “Phyllis Ford.”

Phyllis later moved to Tulsa to open a performing arts studio there, which she ran for nearly a decade.

PHYLLIS: After that, my parents needed me in Lebanon, Missouri, where I went to high school.  So I decided to move back to Springfield, and while I was there I decided to go ahead and get my Master’s degree in Theatre and Dance.

That was in 2002. MSU Theatre and Dance faculty suggested the idea of working with senior citizens to Phyllis.

PHYLLIS: And while I was at MSU getting my Master’s degree, this was my Senior project, the “Seniors as Stars” program.  “Wizard of Oz” was our first production. And everyone seemed to enjoy doing it so much that we’ve just kept right on doing it all these years. I knew that I was not ready to continue “competition” with the professionals, and I wanted something that was more laid-back, and that I could have fun with.

Phyllis Frick and her group of seniors—recruited right there at the Senior Center—performed “Wizard of Oz” in retirement homes, churches and middle schools around the area, and 12 weeks has turned into 12 years. She and her current troupe do more than 20 shows a year around the area.  Phyllis says that, due to the demands of learning, memorizing and rehearsing the songs and skits, there’s been quite a bit of turnover within the group, but some performers have stayed with it as long as 7 to 10 years.

(Background audio up)

Well, let’s meet some of the “Seniors as Stars troupe.

SHIRLEY RYAN: I guess I’m the “old hand” here.

RANDY: Okay, your name is...?

SHIRLEY: I’m Shirley Ryan, and I read it in the little newsletter they put out every month here, about an acting group. And I thought, “Hmmm... I’ll see what that is.” And she put me right to work, so...!  Not only am I a big ham, but I just enjoy everybody I work with. We have a lot of fun, and everybody gets along great—what more can you ask?

JANE FAST: I’m Jane Fast, and I’m a former foreign-language teacher.  And as a teacher you’re pretty much “on-stage,” so this is just a continuation of that. And I love it, we have great fun.

BARBARA ANN NOWAK: My name is Barbara Ann Nowak, and I met Phyllis at the Christian Science Church.  She’s the First Reader there, and she told me about “Seniors as Stars.” And I had been the “queen of karaoke” for many years, and I’d been on stage a lot in Vegas and Chicago, and I thought, “I’ll try it.” So it’s something brand new—I’m 67 years old, and I just—I really enjoy it.

RICK ALWARDT: My name is Rick Alwardt. I’ve been in this group for three years. And I learned about it through an announcement on KSMU, on their Friday-morning what’s going on about town. I’ve always been partial to being on stage—in high school, in college, in community theatre. This is great in part because it’s theatre, and in part because I get to associate with all these wonderful ladies.

We’ll leave you with a little flavor of the current “Seniors as Stars” skit—which they just performed at Millwood Country Club: a spoof of daytime television as one might experience it by flipping from channel to channel... from a cooking show to a show about pets to a gardening show... and a dating show hosted by Miss Piggy.

(Fade up on “cooking show”): ...your bowl of cheese filling. And another nice touch is a dash of white pepper.  Now, mix this well, and then—

(change channels to pet program) ...drag it all over the yard! To prevent this, you must be sure the lid is on tight. Otherwise your dog might dig out something pretty awful—

(change channels to Miss Piggy’s dating show) give to your lady friend. A woman always appreciates a little surprise gift. So hand this to her, and imagine her delight when she opens it and finds—

(change channels to gardening show) ...something damp and disgusting! Now, compost may seem that way to you, but your garden will just love it. (fade out)

Well, I hope you get the idea.  If you’d like to find out more about “Seniors as Stars,” contact Phyllis Frick at 869-5281, email, or check with the Southside Senior Center in Springfield.

And here’s more from the “Daytime TV” skit...

PHYLLIS: Daytime television... pretty dismal stuff. Soap operas, talk shows, old reruns and cartoons and quiz shows. Well, what I want to know is, whatever happened to culture and education? Well, today I was surfing around the TV channels, and came across four different programs that sounded kind of interesting and informative. But they all came on at the same time.  So I had to keep flipping back and forth among all four channels... and this is what I heard.

COOKING SHOW: Hi there, folks, this is “Fit to Be Fried”, your favorite cooking show. I’m Frances Fondue, here to tell you how to prepare a wonderful company dinner.

PET SHOW: Welcome to “Your Pet Department”, the show that’s all about our furry friends.  I am Bobby Basset, your pet vet. Today’s topic is “How to break your pets of bad habits.”

GARDENING SHOW: Well, hello!  You’ve tuned into “D.I.R.T.,” your gardening show. And I am Mary Contrary. We will talk first today about creating a compost heap. This is really wonderful stuff for your garden, and so easy to put together that I’m going to tell you how.

MISS PIGGY: We’re back with you today on “The Dating Scene.”  I’m Miss Piggy, with dating tips for you guys from a woman’s point of view. Now, women love flowers, so when you go to pick her up for dinner, be sure to bring her a lovely bouquet of—

(change channels to gardening show) –rotting leaves and old grass clippings. Keep turning these over in your compost piles so it will decompose evenly, and make all this goopy, smelly—

(switch to cooking show) –salad for your first course. This will absolutely amaze your guests. But allow them only one small serving because there’s so much more food coming up—

(switch to pet show) –all over the floor! Now, you don’t want your puppy to do this, so be sure to put down a lot of newspapers for her.

(switch to Miss Piggy’s dating show) When you do these nice little things for her, a woman really appreciates your thoughtfulness.  But she may not be able to express her gratitude in words, so don’t be surprised if she—

(switch to pet show)—jumps up and puts her paws on your knees. This is a really bad habit that a lot of them have, and sometimes it is difficult to break. But try pushing her off and hollering, “no!”

(switch to cooking show) –or you can sprinkle some grated cheese.  Well, let’s move ahead. I promised to tell you how to make those cute little appetizers. First you break two eggs and put them—

(switch to dating show) –in one ear and out the other. Your girlfriend won’t really listen if you talk about football, because she really isn’t interested. (Shouting in Miss Piggy mode) So try talking about something that SHE enjoys, like maybe—

(back to pet show) –making a mess on the carpet. Now, don’t punish her for this.  I know some people might spank her with a fly-swatter. But don’t do that. A fly-swatter is only good for—

(switch to cooking show)—beating your egg whites ‘til they form soft peaks. Be careful not to over-beat them, or they won’t mix well.  Now carefully fold the egg whites into—

(switch to gardening show)—your old rubber gloves. It’s a good idea to wear these when you handle the compost because this stuff makes a rather nasty concoction—

(switch to dating show)—for your romantic dinner. (SKIP to 13:12) And now for final word on the dating scene. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to go out to go out to some fancy place—just bring some good wine and you can have a wonderful evening just sitting around her apartment—

(switch to pet show) –coughing up hairballs.

PHYLLIS: Well, that’s about all the education and culture I could take at one sitting!