Participant Spotlight: Ellen Stenson

March 16, 2016

Still Point’s Sage Theatre Workshop celebrates the wisdom, creativity, and perspective of older citizens. The Sage Theatre group at Bethany Retirement Center reached a milestone recently when they presented their first performance on February 6th, 2016. Their original production was entitled Mixin’ It Up, Volume 1.

When Ellen Stenson signed up for the class at Bethany, she really didn’t know what to expect. When I asked if she had had any performance experience prior to taking the class, she chuckled, “Absolutely NOT! Well, maybe I did a skit in fourth grade in Girl Scouts or something. I never thought I had any kind of talent at all. I signed up just to get involved. I went to the first class, and I was hooked!”

Ellen clearly jumped right into the improvisational process without hesitation, and was surprised at how much she fun she had taking an idea and running with it. Facilitator Lisa Wagner-Carollo used prompts about the class members’ favorite actors to initiate improvs, and Ellen created a Robert De Niro character that became central in the performance. A flirtation with Barbara Streisand and an ensuing love triangle with James Brolin were part of the comical material that the players created in the weekly classes.

Ellen had some serious stage fright that manifested itself right before the show. She was working through a monologue with Lisa, and she recalls that her performance seemed to be falling apart. She was stumbling over words, forgetting things – she said that she was having a hard time just getting through it. Lisa talked with her about her performance anxiety, and Ellen recalls her advice,”Lisa said to let go and have fun. She said to talk to the audience, really look people in the eye and make a connection.” Ellen remarked that this approach helped her to work past her fears. “I was able to confront some demons,” she confided. Her connection with the audience was so successful that she had interplay with them in the performance, as she tossed out classic De Niro quotes from some of his biggest films and the audience members would shout out the names of the appropriate movie.

I asked Ellen what her biggest take-away was from the entire experience of being in the class and doing her first live performance. She responded, “I found something that I love to do, and I’m good at it! This has brought up my self-esteem and confidence like you wouldn’t believe. I never thought I could do anything like this – and I had so much fun!” She reiterated that she has never missed a class and doesn’t intend to. “I’ll never stop this!” she exclaimed. In our conversation, it was impossible not to grin along with Ellen’s infectious enthusiasm. This budding actress has clearly been bitten by the theatre bug, and it is immensely gratifying to see the joy that has been inspired by her participation in Still Point’s Sage Theatre Workshop.

In Ellen’s story of overcoming her performance fears, we hear that connection is key. The aspect of theatre that urges us to connect – with our own stories, with fellow performers, and with the audience – is powerful and transformative.

by Anita Dacanay