Spending their Monday afternoons practicing alternate personas, participants in Los Altos resident Enid Davis’ Having Fun with Monologues class hone their acting skills in advance of auditions for the Wise Owl Players’ next performance.
The Wise Owl Players, sponsored by the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Avenidas, offers drama classes for adults ages 50 and up. The troupe previously produced “Animal Farm,” George Orwell’s novel adapted by Ian Wooldridge, and Davis’ “Deleted.,” a comedy about a support group for fictional characters deleted from their authors’ manuscripts. The group’s mission is to foster social connections, personal growth and self-esteem, as well as to demonstrate the richness seniors bring to the community.
“I love working with people this age,” Davis said. “I’m a senior, and it’s making me feel better about growing older. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean your creativity has to stop and you can’t keep doing new things.”
A love of theater
With a master’s degree in library science and a bachelor’s in English literature, Davis worked for many years as a children’s librarian as well as director of libraries at Harker School. Combining her love of storytelling with a love of theater, Davis produced her first play – a puppet musical titled “Sesame Street Fights Pollution” – at the Los Altos Library in 1972; performances at other county libraries followed.
“Then I would write plays for wherever I was involved,” she said, including a skit on the Equal Rights Amendment for the National Organization for Women magazine and an Academy Awards parody with Friends of the Library.
Post-retirement in 2012, Davis was offered a job producing staged readings at the Jewish Community Center. Inspired by Jewish folk tales, she created plays such as “A Slice of Wry” and “A Bite of Joy.” The plays can be viewed on Davis’ YouTube channel.
When a friend introduced her to Avenidas, she attended an improv class at the center. She went on to teach storytelling and creative writing there.
In summer 2016, Davis produced a staged reading of “Animal Farm” at Avenidas. The success of the show led to requests for more classes, more plays.
“I decided I would try to write a play,” she said. “I knew that to write a play about old people would be totally wrong – it would be boring, and they could play any age, because they’ve been every age. That was my premise. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s how your voice carries, and the wisdom … in the voice.”
Davis continues to be excited about her Avenidas acting classes.
“I’m working with a subject that I always enjoyed – writing skits and putting people on the stage – but now I’m really getting into the nitty-gritty of acting and dramatic interpretation, and I’ve never done this before, and I love doing new things.”
Taking risks, having fun
The Having Fun with Monologues class teaches students to create a dramatic character. Through author research, teacher/director conferences and plenty of imagination, participants craft monologues they may or may not perform.
Most of the class was also in the group’s October 2018 performance of Davis’ play “Deleted.”; some had acting experience, but others were performing for the first time. They all had good things to say about Davis and the class, and, in addition to improving their skills in advance of the next “Deleted.” performance, had a variety of reasons for being there.
Michelle Diederich, new to acting, finds her classmates respectful and friendly, and appreciates that Davis fosters “a professional safe space to learn and create.”
Graceann Johnson started acting in elementary school and continued through college. She was in the first production of “Deleted.”
“I liked the idea of once again being part of a cast in a production,” she said. “Not having to memorize the lines was a pivotal piece of my decision. … Enid is a fine teacher/director who is supportive in a respectful way, with a good sense of humor.”
When Johnson’s husband, Bob, saw his wife having so much fun acting in “Deleted.,” he was motivated to join her.
“Taking part in any public performance makes you think about what it means to be human, and your own role in that search,” he said. “The people in ‘Deleted.’ had fun while dealing with what ultimately is a rather serious question.”
Participant Katherine Chappelear said she first became involved in acting in 2017 when she decided to audition for “Deleted.”
“I wanted to try something new and maybe find my ‘inner actor,’” she said. “The class offers a safe place to step out of my comfort zone, meet new people, take risks and have fun.”
Jane Stefani, who performed in “Animal Farm” and “Deleted.,” said she and the other students continue to learn about the dramatic process, and about themselves.
“I love the chance to step outside of myself, take on a new persona, and let the words fly,” she said.
Veteran “Deleted.” actor Ellin Klor has been intermittently involved in theater since childhood. As a children’s librarian, she became a storyteller and wrote sketches based on children’s literature that were then performed.
“I love the shared creative experience of doing theater,” she said. “The Wise Owl Players has been a wonderful group to work with. Enid is a supportive, thorough and thoughtful director, not to mention an inspired playwright.”
Marc Vincenti, the group’s most experienced actor, said being part of “Deleted.” gave him a “wonderful feeling of being part of a worthy community enterprise – one that was tying other seniors to each other, the playwright to her audiences, and the entire, older company to Palo Alto and neighboring towns.”
Davis said the Wise Owls Players is always looking for new members. People can participate in her Avenidas classes even if they don’t want to perform in the play. Acting experience is not required.
For more information on Avenidas, call 289-5400 or visit avenidas.org.
Upcoming Wise Owls Players classes and performances
• Boot Camp 2019: 2-4 p.m. April 16 through May 7, at Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Students will prepare for the next production of “Deleted.”
• Auditions for “Deleted.”: May 9 and 11 at Cubberley.
• Performances of “Deleted.”: Sept. 14 and 15 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.