Seniors in the making

I started this month the way I ended the month of July twenty years ago – by participating in a Port Hawkesbury theatre show. And, in a neat twist, I was one of the youngest people involved in each of these shows.

This time around, I was the facilitator for the last-ever edition of Senior Moments, a show developed by Richmond County’s New Horizons Arts For Seniors project. At the generous invitation of the Festival of the Strait committee, Senior Moments made its Port Hawkesbury debut at St. Mark’s United Church Hall on July 2, as the entertainment for the festival’s official Seniors’ Dinner.

We were missing one of our regular performers and writers, Gerry Samson, who had a previous commitment this week. But, at the same time, we were delighted to welcome back Dawn Halloun, who had missed the official run of the series due to illness but was an energetic, creative contributor to the show, from original scripts to enthusiastic participation in our improv workshops. In her first official show with the Senior Moments crew, Dawn combined perfectly with regulars Stan Richards, Betty Burke, Claire Jeffrey, Bobby Cotton, Gordon Boutilier and sound man Colin MacDougall.

It was a special time for all of us, for several different reasons. We had never done the show outside of Richmond County, for one, and we got a wonderful response from the Seniors’ Dinner attendees, including some that had wanted to see this show for a long time but couldn’t make it to our Richmond dates for one reason or another.

This was also Cathy’s first opportunity to see Senior Moments, and she not only took in the show but threw herself into the mix as a backstage assistant. (That was even more helpful for those moments when I realized we were one microphone stand short and I needed someone to hold the mic near me as I attempted to lead certain parts of the show while seated at my keyboard.)

Another special guest also joined our party, as Brenda Chisholm-Beaton became the fourth contestant in our game show sketch “Da Mudder Tung,” a celebration of uniquely Cape Breton phrases written by Stan. I thought the mayor might just be comfortable hanging off to the side and occasionally contributing a guess. Brenda immediately set the tone by strolling onstage and gaily introducing herself as the girlfriend of “Tequila Bob” (a burned-out hippie character played with great aplomb by Bobby), and we enjoyed the whole thing from there on in.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I’m astounded to think that this particular Senior Moments performance took place almost twenty years to the day after Under The Map Theatre launched its Wicked Celtic Hoot series at the Port Hawkesbury Creamery.

This was the first time any Strait area group had tested out the topical musical-comedy format normally associated with the Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island and its successor, the Cape Breton Summertime Revue (which, unbeknownst to us in Under The Map, was running what would turn out to be its last tour before a three-year hiatus).

As with Senior Moments, I was one of the youngest members of the cast, and we were also flying without a net. Could we do a whole show full of sketches and musical numbers about local people – mayors, premiers, mill folks, the basic everyday types you’d see on the street or in a community hall – and expect a local audience to support it? Could that really happen?

It did. The Creamery was packed on that evening in July; we hastily added an early-August encore and the line-up stretched all the way back up to Granville Street.

Midway through the first act of the first night, one of our Hoot house band members, Robbie MacNeil, led the others in the singing of the Lennie Gallant classic “Peter’s Dream.” (Brief aside: Lennie himself sang it the night before Senior Moments reached Port Hawkesbury, to kick off this year’s Granville Green Concert Series.)

As I looked out at the Strait of Canso from just behind the Creamery while awaiting my entrance for the next sketch, I heard Robbie sing the chorus line about a fisherman dreaming of sailing on the Sea of Galilee, casting his nets, and having Jesus himself pull them in. I immediately felt God’s presence with me and knew we had hit on something special.

Twenty years and six more Hoots later, I’m glad that spirit still lives on in Senior Moments – and I hope we realize that, as we contribute to our communities in any way, that we’re all “seniors in the making,” building a lifetime of moments that will help us continue to shine in our golden years.