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It's never too late' to follow your dreams

Retired teacher finds new passions at Peabody community

Created date

June 25th, 2013
Theatrical masks

Frances Schonfeld is a perfect example of how quickly a new resident can become part of the Brooksby community. As the Old Hams cast member newest to Brooksby, Frances joined the spring theater production as a new face in the community and a novice to acting. Frances credits Brooksby s welcoming spirit for her foray into theater in her role as retired mystic Madam Clara Voyant. After her move to Brooksby last October, Frances integrated herself very quickly, joining a script-reading session with members of the community s Theatre at the Pond (TAP) group. She was approached after the reading by a community member who encouraged Frances to audition for TAP s spring show. With some hesitation, Frances auditioned in January and was cast as strong-willed Madam Clara in the comedy. With natural confidence and unwavering dedication to her character, Frances easily made audiences laugh with sometimes cloudy predictions that ultimately revealed information essential to the plot. I ve always had a secret desire to act, she says. This shows that it may be late, but it s never too late. In the week following the play, Brooksby audience members approached Frances in the corridors to praise her performance. I can hardly appear in public, Frances jokes, surprised by the reaction.

Theatrical practice

After graduating from Hunter College, in New York, with a degree in English, Frances went on to work as a fifth and sixth grade teacher. That, to some extent, prepared me for my little dramatic career, she says, but it was after retiring from teaching that Frances spent 14 years lending her voice to recordings of textbooks for the blind. As a volunteer in the recordings, Frances was challenged to speak text that wasn t written to be read aloud. People think you can walk off the street and do it. That s not the case, she says. At one point during a reading of excerpts from Fyodor Dostoevsky, someone on the project remarked that Frances should be an actress, calling her an actress manqu , implying she had missed her calling.

Diverse community

Though originally from New York, Frances had been living in a condo in Del Ray Beach, Fla., for 30 years. Twice widowed, Frances was beginning to consider moving to an independent living community a search that led her to Brooksby. I liked the idea of the diversity of the population. That seemed like real life, and my visits here gave me the impression of very friendly people, comfort, and good activities, she says. The activities have turned out to be far better than I had anticipated. The level of lectures and meetings is at a higher level than any facility I had visited in Florida or here. Frances grew up visiting her grandparents in Dorchester, Mass., and her children live in Lexington, Mass., and New York. Having lived her whole life in apartments, Frances knew she wanted a one-bedroom at Brooksby. She chose the one-bedroom, one-bathroom Ellicott-style floor plan for its very spacious rooms, she says, adding I like the openness of it and the light. Since moving to Brooksby, Frances has participated in peer-led courses on existentialism and the history of ethics. She has also participated in activities within Brooksby s Jewish community and noted the many interfaith lectures and holiday activities. The diversity here is inspiring, she says. The mix of people and the interest in each other, the wanting to know more about one another is quite extraordinary. Frances has traveled much of the world, including Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan, but she says of Brooksby s tolerance and diversity, The world should take an example of this. Brooksby can be extremely proud of that. That is its greatest virtue, she adds.

Love of acting

As the spring performance wound down at Brooksby, Frances reflected on what she had learned: I love acting, I really do. Nevertheless, she was looking forward to a bit of rest after the months of rehearsals. I really don t know how people on Broadway do it for months, she says. Though ever sensitive to annunciation and voices, Frances says her own acting has given her a new appreciation and eye for the acting she sees on television. She anticipates getting involved in script reading again at Brooksby and is contemplating a return to the stage for a new challenge.