Customer Spotlight: Lincoln Community Players - Making the Junior "Senior"

Customer Spotlight: Lincoln Community Players - Making the Junior "Senior"

As part of the 20th Anniversary of the Broadway JR. series, we are pleased to profile outstanding theatre programs that have used Broadway JR. to its fullest potential.

Today, we highlight The Lincoln Community Players in Lincoln, Nebraska!

The Broadway Junior series has been a premier effort to bring classic Broadway plays to young performers in an accessible and educational way. We know that theatre thrives with young thespians, and a great effort has been made to make sure that theatre education is made accessible for all children. But there’s a market of the theatre that often gets forgotten: Senior theatre. The joy of performing and creating theatre doesn’t stop at a certain age, and Lincoln Community Playhouse is leading the way of getting our Seniors back into musicals by using the Broadway Junior collection.  

I sat down with Morrie Enders to discuss their incredible effort to bring Broadway back to seniors.

Q: Tell us about the start of your group. How did you get the idea to use Broadway Junior with Senior actors?

A: When I started at Lincoln Community Playhouse in 2010, I began looking for outreach opportunities. Dee Agulair and Leta Powell Drake, from Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, came over to discuss holding some day classes in our building (OLLI is a senior education program). I mentioned I had done some senior theatre before and, before they left, instead of class space, they had a whole senior program!

We called ourselves The OLLI/Playhouse Radio Active Players because we started with radio scripts done in a reader's theatre format. It soon became apparent that material for the senior theatre market was slim and mostly bad. This actually was the same problem I had with much of children's theatre offerings. So much of it are unproven scripts that are endless rip-offs of fairy tales. The MTI Broadway Junior program saved children's theatre as far as I'm concerned. Instead of still another trial of the Big Bad Wolf with barely hummable songs, children across America were now singing "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" and saying the classic lines of Tevye. Suddenly kids are getting their first taste of Tony and even Pulitzer Prize winning theatre.

Why couldn't MTI also have this effect on senior theatre?

I spoke with John Prignano and also wrote Freddie Gershon in 2012 about the possibility of using the MTI JR. shows with a senior cast. The length of the shows was perfect, the keys were fine, and the script font was large enough for my seniors. Basically, as with working with kids, we could produce the show right out of the MTI kit.

The Radio Active Players performing Guys and Dolls JR. (Photo by David Fitzgibbon/UNL Communication)

Q: It’s really an ingenious idea you had. The thing that Senior Theatre and Children’s Theatre have in common, as far as demands go, is length of show. But here you had something with the appropriate content. What show did you decide to do first?

A: Our first production was Guys and Dolls JR. We presented the show in a readers theatre format with the actors using scripts and with the full cast on stage in several rows of chairs for the entire performance. There was limited blocking (out actors used body microphones so they weren't locked into standing in front of stand microphones as in our previous shows).The actors were in costume. We used a live pianist.

I wrote Mr. Gershon about the Guys and Dolls “Sr.” experience:

“As I hoped, using quality material rather than the drivel that is marketed to the growing senior theatre movement, made all the difference in the world. Our actors loved playing the classic characters and singing the timeless Loesser score. Our audience reveled in the humor and Adelaide’s remark “Nobody cries like that over an old guy,” received a huge laugh from our senior audience.

One of my actors told me “Never thought I’d be doing this kind of thing, at this point in my life. It’s been wonderful. It’s helped me to grow as a person”. Another one said "being in these shows has changed my outlook on life." And these folks are in their 70's! We often think of the transformative role theatre can play in the lives of children, but it can be an amazing life changer at any stage of life.”

Q: That’s very touching. It’s really amazing what theatre can do. I can only imagine how thrilled my own grandfather would be to play Don Quixote again! Have you kept the shows in reader’s theatre format?

A:  For our show last month, Fiddler on the Roof JR., we elevated our production. As I prepped for it, I thought there were too many intimate family scenes to have the full cast on stage throughout. So I decided to stage the production. We still had simple blocking and only a few scenic pieces and props (as with our previous shows, we rented the MTI slides), but it felt more like a "real" production. My actors loved the challenge. For this show, we used the accompaniment cd which also made it feel less like a concert and more like a production.

The Radio Active Players performing Guys and Dolls JR. (Photo by David Fitzgibbon/UNL Communication)

Q: Was Fiddler on the Roof the first show you fully staged?

A: Fiddler on the Roof JR. was our first fully staged production. We had blocked Guys and Dolls JR. and Music Man JR. but both of those shows had the whole cast seated in three rows on stage throughout the performance. So many of the scenes in Fiddler seemed to intimate to have all these eavesdroppers, so I thought it should be fully staged. We kept it simple, using the MTI slides to establish place, and then having a table, benches and chairs doing all around set duty for the house interior and exterior and tavern.

Q: Did you find it challenging at all to stage the show?

A: The challenge in staging was no different than any show; you have to match the blocking to the specific group you are working with in the show. In this case, there was less movement than I might have used with a traditional cast.

Q: Do you have any seniors that did these musicals when they were younger? Anyone with strong attachments to certain roles or titles you’ve been able to perform?

A: There have been some actors who have appeared in these same titles in their younger days. I don't think anyone has played a role again. But the first three shows are among the most beloved in history, so my actors were attracted to being in these great shows. Many had seen them before, but not been in them.

Q: Tell me a little more about your group. Are many of the seniors in your group already theatre-people? Have you made any converts?

A: My group is community theatre traditional - we are a mixed bag of people who have done a lot of shows (My Tevye, for instance, was also playing the prosecuting attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird at the same time he was rehearsing with us) and new people. The OLLI group we work with is about lifelong learning and some of our actors are trying the theatre for the first time. It is exciting to see any person get the theatre bug, but even better when that person is over 60!

Q: You mentioned some reactions from your seniors in your letter to Freddie. Can you elaborate a bit on the overall outside benefits you’ve seen for your actors to be involved in theatre again?

A: The most important benefit for us is giving our senior actors the opportunity to work with classic material instead of some unproven senior script. These shows were favorites, but our actors were many years past playing roles like Adelaide, Perchik, or Zaneeta Shinn. Now they had another chance. One of our actors is in his 60’s played Winthrop for us and we had an 88 year-old as Big Jule! But, I believe in the transformation power of theatre.  When a child is in one of our shows, they glow when their parents and grandparents tell them how well they did. My seniors have that same glow when they are receiving praise from their children and grandchildren.

Q: That’s truly beautiful. What are your plans for the future?

A: We are planning on doing one senior show each year. Unfortunately, MTI JR. titles suitable for seniors are running low (I see Pirates of Penzance, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Singing in the Rain as possibles). I would love to see The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees and some of the adult revues made available. But I should note, that MTI is the leader in forward thinking on senior shows. One company I contacted gave me a firm no on using a youth version for my seniors. I don't get that. I am hoping MTI will continue to bring out JR. scripts from their catalog, as many of them would have lives in senior theatre.

Well, I certainly hope we can continue to play a major role in this fantastic program. If you would like to know more about Lincoln Community Players you can check out their website at Thank you for your amazing work!