Theatrical licensor Music Theatre International has presented Canton, Massachusetts' Orchard Cove Retirement Community with its Courage in Theatre Award in recognition of its safely conducted pilot workshop production of Guys and Dolls SR., held during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The production is part of MTI's Broadway Senior collection of musicals, which adapts well-known Broadway titles to be performed by older adults.
Auditions for Orchard Cove's Guys and Dolls had just begun last spring when the spread of COVID-19 sent much of the country into lockdown. By establishing strict health and safety protocols, SeniorLife was able to go ahead with rehearsals, held online and, when possible, outdoors in smaller, socially distanced, and masked groups. While the fully-realized production was ultimately put on hold, rehearsals continued because of the impact they were having on the cast, which numbered 35 with an average age of 87. The oldest cast member, playing a Hot Box dancer, was 101.
"Theatre is a transformative art, and we know from experience the positive effects the theatrical process has on people, young and old alike," says MTI Co-Chairman Freddie Gershon. "The ongoing development of the Broadway Senior program has revealed, anecdotally, that seniors who participate in a community musical are more engaged and active, and less reliant on medication, and embrace the social experience. As we have learned over decades with Broadway Junior, the process of preparing is as important as the performances to the cast of performers. When I heard and saw the hard work and perseverance taking place at Orchard Cove in the face of unprecedented health challenges, I knew it was important to highlight their fortitude, resilience, and high spirits going through a scary obstacle course to prepare. I knew Orchard Cove was singularly appropriate for the Courage in Theatre Award.”
"Witnessing the willingness of all these people, some at 100 years old, to schlep and walk all this way for a rehearsal, it’s magic,” adds choral director Cici Hunt. "You see the years melt away as the residents were not thinking about what they can’t do. They were thinking about what they can do. These people got me through COVID. I got out of my head and into my heart."
MTI has been developing the Broadway Senior collection over the last two years, holding pilot productions for a number of musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof SR. and Into the Woods SR. at senior communities nationwide. Condensed from the normal editions of these works, the senior collections are designed to eliminate any barriers to producing a show with an older cast, with accompaniment tracks, staging and choreography notes, and more.
"We are absolutely going to continue with this process," says Orchard Cove Executive Director Aline Russotto. "We know how much this experience means to everyone at Orchard Cove, and we can’t wait to eventually let our residents shine, and entertain their neighbors, through a live performance."
Previous winners of MTI's Courage in Theatre Award include the students and teachers of Green Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, for mounting its 2010 production of Rent School Edition in the face of resistance from community members who objected to issues of sexuality and drug use in the piece; the special needs students of New York City's The Spectrum School, P94M for writing and producing an original musical A Powerful Day in 2010; and Cherry Hill High School East for its 2017 production of Ragtime that used the show's content and language to open a dialogue around race in the community.