Aged and Enthused: Women’s theater group presents original dramatic reading

Lauren Fisher, photos by Taylor Smith

MAD HATTERS.  The Eau Claire Women in Theater don’t usually use costumes, but the silly hats in Alice in Elderland help keep the many characters straight.
MAD HATTERS. The Eau Claire Women in Theater don’t usually use costumes, but the silly hats in Alice in Elderland help keep the many characters straight.

Nearly three years after a troupe of local women first convened to overcome a shared barrier to their shared love of performance, they are preparing for their sixth production of an original dramatic reading performance, Alice in Elderland, which will take place Jan. 19 and 20 at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls. The group of actresses and literature-lovers found they were limited in their theatrical pursuits.  With this in mind, they formed Eau Claire Women in Theater.

“We were a little frustrated. When you get to a certain age in performance, there aren’t that many roles that you can try out for,” ECWIT member Debbie Brown said. With inspiration from her daughter, she and her contemporaries began to choose plays and adapt other works of literature for dramatic reading performances. They would meet regularly to review and act together.

“It’s very fulfulling, but we were just missing something and decided it was the audience, doing it for other people so they could enjoy it, hopefully as much as we did,” Brown said. So they took their work to the stage, holding their first production at the Altoona Public Library in October 2017.

Brown developed Alice in Elderland to perform for Chippewa Valley Learning in Retirement, a group of retired people who meet regularly to enjoy lectures, music, performances, and more. She had been toying with the idea for the play as she approached her 65th birthday, and found the organization’s request the perfect opportunity to explore it seriously. She contemplated the changes that accompany aging and spoke with others to hone in on experiences, concerns, and gains that come along with age. Then she started writing.

“It touches on the concerns that people have with changes in identity, how you perceive yourself, how other people see you,” Brown said. “Do you accept what society has determined is old, or do you find your own way?”

She performs as Alice, a woman coming to terms with her age with the help of familiar characters such as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Humpty Dumpty, and the “Checker” cat. Alice doesn’t believe she belongs in Elderland, longing to return to her past – which she does by eating baked treats. In Wonderland, partaking in a drink or snack might make Alice grow smaller or larger; in Elderland, it helps Alice remember how far she has come in life.

Beverly Olson reads these scenes, as well as several other characters.  The group switches roles regularly, familiarizing themselves with several characters.  “What if someone gets sick, falls down and breaks a hip?” she asked in jest. Beyond Alice, the members of ECWIT take turns adapting works for performance, directing, acting, and performing administrative duties.

“We weren’t anticipating that it would be received quite as well as it has been, but it seems to tick all the boxes,” Brown said of Alice in Elderland. The Heyde Center performance will be ECWIT’s sixth production of the play. People of all ages can relate to the main character’s story, whether they are experiencing aging themselves or they know someone else who is going through the transition, Brown and Olson said.

ECWIT also aims to promote a love of reading, according to Olson. All six members are lovers of the written word, and they channel this love through dramatic performances of poems, prose, and stories. “The underlying factor is always the love of literature,” Olson said. While they are uncertain of the future of Alice in Elderland, they will continue to connect over their shared love for words, written, read, and performed.

Tickets for Alice in Elderland are available now at www.cvca.net. There will be two performances: Jan 19 at 7:30pm and Jan 20 at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $8 for youths. 

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