Top Hat Readers Drama Workshop Provides Community, Joy and Welcoming Space for Seniors | News from Coronado Island

For several years, Coronado has housed a Readers Theater at the Spreckels Center. Coronado local Gwen Hovland, who is no stranger to the theatrical scene, led these workshops which include last year’s most recent iteration, a Top Hat Senior Readers Theater for community members from 55 and over.

The Readers Theater is a popular form of entertainment that allows anyone to participate at any level. For Hovland, it was the ideal outlet to resume the acting profession after a stint in the Peace Corps. “I joined the Peace Corps at 68,” she began. “For two years, I lived in the village of Nonphayom, Thailand, as a volunteer assigned to teach English for grades 5 to 9. We were in the middle of nowhere in Thailand; without Internet, without cell phone and without written language, ”described Hovland.

“I had time to dream,” she continues. “I made a commitment to audition for a Readers Theater in San Diego County [when I got back to Coronado]. It would be a return to acting that wouldn’t require memorization or long rehearsals. What’s important here, “Hovland said of the Top Hat Readers Theater Workshop,” is that there is no [of those barriers]. So I walked into the Spreckels Center and submitted a resume and lesson plan for a 90 minute class. It was 3 years ago.

Hovland, who has a background in speech, education, and the performing arts, has performed in a wide variety of roles in shows around San Diego and has led various professional theater workshops over the years. She feels right at home on stage and today uses that love to foster a community celebrating the arts, helping others discover a joy they may never have had the chance to explore before or, like her, looked for a way back.

“My Danish grandfather used to say: ‘There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. If you have a choice, go ahead laughing. But more importantly, as a teacher of any material or age, kindle the forgotten fires of emotional and creative intelligence, imagination and intuition, ”Hovland recalls, mentioning how her wisdom was a great inspiration for her to start the Top Hat Readers Theater program. in Coronado.

Readers Theater workshops at Spreckels Center typically last eight weeks with 90-minute sessions once a week. As Hovland describes it, they are “filled with contagious laughter!” We use portable scripts that focus on imagery, rhythm and characterization where individuals and ensembles reinforce novice and professional skills. No memorization is required, we just read skits, plays, lyrics and prose. It’s a safe place to connect and explore the Senior Readers Theater, regardless of the experience.

Two of the most recent participants in the Readers Theater workshop were Marylee Goyan and Mary Isobel. “I thought it would be everyone sitting in a chair reading aloud, and I was surprised and delighted that it was so much more than that,” Isobel said, speaking of how the group got together. would move around the stage, gesture, essentially act as they read. “I was in a walker but did the best I could,” she continued. “I had never performed on stage before and I was surprised how easy it was. I wasn’t embarrassed, I wasn’t nervous and Gwen was always there to give direction.

“What you need to know is that Gwen is the magic behind the success of Senior Readers Theater (or SRT as we all like to call it),” agreed Goyan. “Gwen is the most positive, supportive and outstanding teacher I have ever had for any subject. She’s a lady of the house dressed in gorgeous clothes and with the sweetest smile you’ve ever seen, but you know you have to follow her directions – otherwise. However, she patiently listens to all of our ideas (some seem to be thoughts from outer space) and always makes you feel like you’ve just discovered the Golden Egg and anything is possible. She finds each other’s strengths, knowing how delicately to walk with a group of seniors.

Goyan described how, in the last session, she was amazed at how Hovland was able to bring out the best in theater from their inexperienced group. “She uses her magic thread to weave us all together into a memorable tapestry. SRT players get as much pleasure from SRT as the audience enjoys watching, ”she added.

Like Isobel, she found the experience easily accessible given the nature of the Readers Theater. “As we get older our memory tends to age a bit with us. With SRT, you can read your lines while experiencing the same thrill as a live theatrical production, ”she explained.

“And the love of the theater, plus the love of good songs, literature and comedy, brought together a diverse group of people living out all the pieces of this tapestry that Gwen manages to weave. If I had one word to describe the fun, love and laughs for this year’s band it would be “SKOL,” “Goyan said, referring to the Viking turn of phrase to toast good company. .

Isobel felt the same, mentioning how the Top Hat Readers Theater at Spreckels Center was the first class that had really drawn her and could attend and the impact it had on her. “It was really a wonderful thing, after everyone was kidnapped [from the pandemic] and I was even surprised that we had an audience, ”Isobel said of their latest showcase. “I was sorry to see it end; I loved meeting people, made two new friends and would do it again, ”she said.

The most recent Top Hat Readers Theater workshop concluded just before Christmas with a demo performance “Sleigh Ride to Nostalgia” open to the public that delighted all in attendance. “We had an age range in this workshop group that was from 70 to 94,” Hovland told me. “What I learned from each of them changed my life. Both novice and veteran actors and readers have built an invaluable vocabulary to deliver good and great performances and I credit each of them with success in performing their characters, exploring scenes, and using past and present resources. for their individual work in the showcase, ”she proudly added.

Hovland is looking forward to the next iteration of the Top Hat Readers Theater with a session this summer at the Spreckels Center. Anyone wishing to get involved is encouraged to stay tuned for more information on the upcoming summer session as soon as it becomes available at the Spreckels Center and on their website at https://www.coronado.ca .us / government / departments_divisions / recreationandgolfservices / speckelscenter. The Spreckels Center is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be contacted by phone at 619-522-7343.