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Keeping talent alive with Phoenix Readers

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Phoenix Readers. The name is just right for a new theatrical troupe forming through St. Thomas Players.

Dr. Jim Epperson, who taught drama at Catawba College for many years came up with the concept — a group of men and women, 55 and older, who enjoy being on stage and performing, but might be having a little trouble memorizing all those lines or committing to weeks of rehearsals.

“Some of us who are retired still like to do theater, so it hit me, ‘Why not?'” He took the proposal to Jennifer Hubbard, the artistic director of St. Thomas Players. Hubbard had performed in a readers theater in Asheville, so she was sold on the idea.

“In the 1970s, I taught readers theater, then it kind of faded away … people don’t know a lot about it.” It’s about doing theater more efficiently, without sets and with minimal staging, such as a group of stools and stands to hold scripts. “It’s the old idea of, we have a barn, let’s put on a show.”

Performances, as long as Phoenix Readers can find a venue, will be free. They’ll offer performances at Rowan Public Library, and they’ll travel, for example, to Trinity Oaks, or wherever people want to see them perform.

The troupe will consist of six men and six women who will work on a set of pieces to perform. Some people will double up, in case one performer can’t make the next engagement.

Epperson is thinking of starting with the poems of Billy Collins, then maybe some Appalachian folk tales; plays will come later. He’s hoping to keep pieces to about 30 minutes, so they can do a short performance or combine two pieces for a longer event.

“Readers theater, as I understand it, should not be a two or two and a half hour thing.”

Rehearsals will be minimal, but he emphasizes that the actors do need to be very familiar with the piece they’re performing. He will direct interpretation, pacing, nuances, so everyone is learning something.

The auditions will be Sunday, 2 p.m., in the lower level of Haven Lutheran Church. Those interested do not need to prepare anything, Epperson will have something for them to read.

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