RETIREES SPEAK SHAKESPEARE’S LANGUAGE,

ONE HARD TO MEMORIZE LINE AT A TIME

Excerpted from

Boston Globe, August 14, 2018

Classmates who live in and around Boston should be on the lookout for the production of Twelfth Night by the Frances Addelson Shakespeare Players, under the auspices of the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, starring Pat Leahy Meaney as Viola.  The production process, from fiercely competitive auditions to three performances generally spans 18 months, and the target date is still unknown. Twelfth Night will be the company’s 15th production in a grand hall of the HILR on Concord Ave., Cambridge.

The group consists of retires from multinational corporations, university staffs, architectural firms and psychology practices, all agreeing that “this is tough work,” especially the memorization of abstruse lines in a near-foreign language that is required. The upside of all that effort is the research, which suggests that rote memorization helps keep our brains nimble into old age.   Pat, who retired from the Environmental Protection Agency, is quoted in the article as saying “If you’re going to stay alert, you have to tackle new ideas to keep those neurons going.  Other people talk about being bored, but none of us is bored. We’re too wonderfully busy!”

The troupe traces its origins to the 1990’s when Frances Addelson, a retired social worker and advocate for women’s rights and her peers held readings by Shakespeare, which led to; actual play productions.  She led the group until her death in 2014 at 104 at which point, Bill Boone, Ph.D. (76), a former English professor at Williams assumed leadership. Under him, the productions have grown in scale and quality.

Boone trains his seniors like athletes, likening the group to “a gym for the mind.”  He makes personalized recordings of their lines with four-second pauses for memorization and recitation. But he realizes that the actors can handle only a few hours of rehearsal at a time.

The shows have had their share of “senior moments,” lapses that lead to flubbed lines and forgotten cues….and an occasional “star” has taken ill.  It’s all part of the process.  But the participants truly enjoy the entire process! Just ask Pat Meaney!

Don’t miss the show.