Local baby boomers create theatre niche
06:50 AM, Jan 20, 2013
If you go
Left for Deads Comedy Showcase, co-produced by Bread & Water Theatre.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: New Life Presbyterian Church, 243 Rosedale St.
Cost: $5 to $7.
For tickets: BreadandWaterTheatre.org or at the door.
If you do an online query for “senior citizens improv” a funny thing happens: Your search engine will most likely ask “Did you mean ‘senior citizens improve’?”
The Web is teeming with information dedicated to helping seniors improve their health, but information about seniors participating in improvisational theater?
“We are believed to be one, if not the only, improv troupe for seniors in America,” says Roger Sutphen, 66, the founder of Left for Dead, a Rochester-based comedy group for performers ages 50 and up. “Improv is mostly done by kids getting out of college, not people over 50.”
Sutphen, a retired mortgage banker, formed the group in 2011 after he and several other older adults found themselves together in an improv class run by John Forrest Thompson, co-founder of Search Engine Improv and The Space.
“He was amazed by all of the historical stuff in our brains and how we were able to dig back into the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” says Sutphen, of Rochester. “He sparked the idea and we ran with it.”
The group of seven performs at assisted living centers, cafes and theater spaces around Rochester. Its latest show is in conjunction with Bread & Water Theatre.
Carol Shea, 66, a mother, grandmother and retired dental assistant, was one of the first to join the troupe.
“Forty years ago I was in a sketch group called Flash in the Pan,” Shea says. “But then life kind of got in the way and I never thought I’d perform again.”
Six years ago, Shea took a comedy writing class for fun, which ultimately led to discovering improv.
“Improv is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time,” Shea says. “When you do it well, you get offstage as high as a kite.”
Although she performs with other improv groups, she particularly enjoys Left for Dead.
“I was with another improv team and I made a reference to Gary Cooper,” Shea says. “The three 20-year-olds in the group didn’t know who Gary Cooper was. With Left for Dead we get all of our references and crack each other up.”
Jeri Dube, 53, of Pittsford agrees that the troupe shares an important commonality.
“Improv is usually done by much younger people,” Dube says. “I like that with our group, we all understand each others’ experience in the world. We are not trying to prove anything to anyone, just improve our own little piece of the world.”
And improving through improv they are both themselves and others.
“I have learned so much from them,” says Megan Mack, 27, of Greece. “Their life experiences and common experiences gives such a unique perspective.”
Mack, who did her comedic training at The Second City in Toronto, was invited by the group to be their coach last year. She works with them for two hours every Monday night.
“They are very unique in their demographic,” says Mack, who is part of an all-female comedy trio called Uncle Lina. “They work so hard and have such great ideas and chemistry together.”