Theater teacher shares his skills with elder actors

MEDFORD — After spending years teaching theater to children, Jeff Tabler says he's ready to share his skills with another age group with whom he's become familiar — senior citizens.

Tabler, the artistic director for the Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts in Medford, is working with a group called Act III: Third Generation Theatre to start a senior theater program in the Rogue Valley.

"I know seniors, and I'm a senior myself," said Tabler, who has been researching senior-themed plays in preparation for the new program.

"We're going to do senior theater and melodramas," said Tabler. "Plays that might have something to do with being put into a nursing home, having memory loss, or trouble walking."

Despite the geriatric themes, Tabler says the plays are still able to have a lighthearted feel.

"Many have a humorous theme," he said, "a humorous look at life."

The OCPA is hosting its first meeting for the new group at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the new Randall Warehouse Theater in Medford.

Act III: Third Generation Theatre tried starting a senior theater program in the area a few years ago, but the project fell through, Tabler said.

"I think it's time for seniors to have an opportunity like this," Tabler said. "We're a big retirement community, so this is a great place for it."

Tabler has been working with Portland's Senior Theatre Resource Center, an organization founded by former Medford resident Bonnie Vorenberg to bring the program together.

"This idea is so ripe for the Medford area," Vorenberg said. "People are already knowledgeable about theater because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and all the other theaters in the area."

Vorenberg considers herself a pioneer for the senior theater industry, creating the first talent agency for seniors, and compiling the first anthology of senior-themed plays.

"There are very few entertainment options for older people," Vorenberg said. "Senior theater can be funny and work to address issues that seniors deal with. People love the shows."

Over the last dozen years, the senior theater industry has grown 10-fold, with 791 companies in March 2011, versus just 79 in 1999.

Tabler says that seniors will enjoy watching people from their own age group as actors, saying the demographic brings a unique wisdom to their work.

"They have many more years," Tabler said, "so they can bring the perspective of their life into the work they do. It's going to be fun."

The plan is to have the senior theater as a year-round program, which Tabler hopes to start with a series of one-act plays, and possibility taking it to local nursing homes.

There are no set plans for the senior theater, though, and Tabler hopes the kickoff meeting will bring up good ideas and get the ball rolling.

"This is the first meeting to see who's really interested and we'll take it from there," Tabler said. "If you consider yourself a senior, please join us."

Reach Southern Oregon University reporting intern Teresa Ristow at

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