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Talents shine with Maris Grove Players

Created date

February 20th, 2017
Jim Simpson (center) lip-synchs “Under the Boardwalk” during the Players’ production of A New Roof for Rosie. Backing him up are (from left) Jack Welsh, Joe Blake, Laura Ciporin, and Ross Zelesnick.

Jim Simpson (center) lip-synchs “Under the Boardwalk” during the Players’ production of A New Roof for Rosie. Backing him up are (from left) Jack Welsh, Joe Blake, Laura Ciporin, and Ross Zelesnick.

Of all the 180-some activities and events available to the people who live at Maris Grove, Erickson Living’s retirement community in Delaware County, Pa., the Players group is probably the most fun.

Players began in 2008 and boasts some 50 members, including on-stage talent, backstage crew, and volunteers such as ticket sellers. 

The group produces two shows a year: a Maris Grove Follies talent show each spring and an original play each November. 

Creative collaboration

Last November’s production, A New Roof for Rosie, represented a collaboration among Howard Hoffman, who dreamed up the story; playwright Marian Ellis, who refined the script and added dialogue to match the actors’ personalities; and technical wizard Barbara Gobrecht, who created magic via computer technology.

It told the story of the residents of Boomer Acres, an imaginary 55-plus community in Colorado. When a developer announces plans to bulldoze Boomer Acres, its residents undertake a cross-country journey at the developer’s expense to find a new place to live.

The actors sang and danced their way through escapades in four different locales, including San Francisco and Las Vegas. In each city, they talked via Skype to Rosie, who was holding down the fort at Boomer Acres. 

The virtual Skype videos featured the travelers against a background of each different locale. Barbara created them by means of the green screen technology available at Maris Grove’s on-site, state-of-the-art TV studio. 

To entertain the audience during scene changes, she projected YouTube videos on the screen of each locale she had downloaded and accompanied them with appropriately themed music. 

In fact, the play opened with a video. As “Rocky Mountain High” played in the background, a travel video of snow-capped mountains appeared on the screen.

What followed next, a commercial for Boomer Acres, set the audience abuzz. It featured downloaded images of an actual Colorado retirement community with faces of its residents replaced by faces of Maris Grove’s actors.

Even Maris Grove Executive Director Maureen Heckler got into the act: she recorded the voiceover for the commercial. 

Sharing skills

Somehow, every exciting activity proposed at Maris Grove comes to fruition because community members and staff share their talents to make it happen.

Howard Hoffman spent his career doing technical writing at DuPont but always wanted to do more creative work. Now he pens scripts for Players. 

Barbara Gobrecht’s career as a systems analyst put her logical mind to work. 

At Maris Grove, she uses her skills to turn Marian’s and Howard’s creative ideas into reality. Bowled over by the state-of-the-art equipment in the control room of Maris Grove’s theater, she makes full use of its capabilities. 

“I’m interested in big challenges,” Barbara says. “I consider those six months of hard work on the play a big brain game.” 

Players continually gains new recruits. Many of them start as members of the stage crew, comanaged by Rena Miller and Mej Blake. Rena manages the props; Mej manages the people.

Rena moved from Long Island to Pennsylvania because her daughter lived near Maris Grove. Although she knew no one at the community, she decided to get involved in things she’d never done before. 

As a result, her on- and off-campus commitments are eclectic, and her circle of friends includes people with different interests, different backgrounds, and from different faith communities. Rena loves that!

Marian, on the other hand, hasn’t reinvented herself. She’s been writing and directing plays for more than 40 years. Moving to Maris Grove has let her continue to do the things she loves the most. 

“I knew Maris Grove was wonderful the day I moved,” she says. “In those first two weeks I joined the acting class, the Maris Grove chorus, and a memoir-writing group that evolved into our monthly newspaper NeighborNews. Those first two weeks have shaped my life here.”

The play’s casting and rehearsals begin in summer. Rehearsals get longer and more frequent as November approaches, but the Players don’t mind. 

“You have to be dedicated and willing to work,” says Howard, “but people get a lot of satisfaction from doing things like this.”

November’s play, like a move to Maris Grove, had a happy ending. The developer decided against razing Boomer Acres, and Rosie didn’t need to find a new roof after all.

Casting call

Every year, new talent swells the ranks of the Maris Grove Players. Resident Jim Simpson, a former senior credit analyst at DuPont, is a recent example. 

Jim’s commitment as a Communion minister at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Wilmington, Del., takes top priority for him, but he also serves on Maris Grove’s philanthropy advisory committee.

Although the Simpsons moved to Maris Grove in 2014, Jim volunteered for Players’ backstage crew just last year. 

Hidden talents

Instead, although he had no acting experience, he was cajoled into performing on stage in last November’s play A New Roof for Rosie.

When he lip-synched and danced his way through “Under the Boardwalk,” it brought the house down. A star was born!

Jim shrugs off the accolades. “Maris Grove’s lifestyle is freeing,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to think beyond your previous comfort circle and to explore yourself more.”

Although he hasn’t yet joined any other special interest groups, he’s thinking about joining the beekeepers club.

“I never had that opportunity when I lived in a house,” says Jim. “Here, it’s just down the hallway, and everyone is welcoming. At Maris Grove, there are no barriers to fulfilling what you think you might like to try.”