ENCORE improv class injects play into lives

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Jul. 8, 2011
Cathy Russi (left) and Joan Toomey (right) lead the ENCORE Summer Scene improv class through a comical reading. The class is held at the Riverfront Community Center in Glastonbury. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Cathy Russi (left) and Joan Toomey (right) lead the ENCORE Summer Scene improv class through a comical reading. The class is held at the Riverfront Community Center in Glastonbury. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

Life in America has become so hectic and overbooked today that social sciences researchers have been studying the role of play in a healthy life, and even writing books that remind us about what play is and why we need to make time for it.

A new ENCORE class being held at the Riverfront Community Center in Glastonbury is a good place to begin to learn about playfulness and being a little adventurous. Called “Summer Scene,” the class is about improvisation.

Each week, participants will be given scripts to play with and will be encouraged to come up with skits of their own. No previous acting experience is required. Classes are held from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

The first class, led by Joan Toomey and assisted by ENCORE Coordinator Cathy Russi, was held July 6, but new participants are welcome to attend the next three classes, Russi said.

Toomey was previously involved with the Podium Players, working on props and backdrops, and she loved the atmosphere of local theater, she said. Russi has volunteered with a theater group in Colchester.

ENCORE is a group of programs – many of them suggested by participants – for people ages 50 and above. It is supported by a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and many of the programs are free or low-cost. The Middle Eastern Belly Dancing class now underway, for example, is six classes for $17.

Russi explained that the ENCORE classes enhance experiences in one or more of five areas: life-option planning, wellness, civic engagement, life learning, and creativity.

To break the ice at the first Summer Scene class, participants read short comic bits to get a feel for reading with expression.

After Russi told one comical story, Toomey pointed out how Russi put life into the reading. “Reading without comprehension is like eating without tasting,” she said.

“You want to read to bring out the listener’s feelings,” she said.

But the most important thing is to have fun, Toomey added. “We all need to relax and not be stiff,” she said.

In fact, the class is informal and open to input from participants, making it easy to relax.

Acting, improv or other activities that put a person out in front of the public are a great way to keep the mind sharp and build self-confidence, Russi noted, because it’s about trying something new and connecting with other people.

Part of this first class included watching a video called “Attitude Tune-up,” in which two actors depicted very different attitudes about the events of their day, from getting out of bed in the morning, to getting stuck in traffic behind an accident, to how they ended their day.

One was clearly determined to have a crummy day, while the other was just as determined to look for something positive, no matter what came her way.

The second Summer Scene class will have participants working collaboratively to create scenes about positive and negative attitudes about what life hands us, with the help of some props Toomey and the class will bring from home.

Participants in the class had different reasons for being there. Ellen Howe, for example, said she likes the idea of trying on different personas and the freedom to be a little more flamboyant than she might normally feel. She’s also taking the belly-dancing class, and gave the ENCORE programs a thumbs up for its variety of offerings.

Mikki Lunt said she was inspired to come to the class by her granddaughter who acts and sings, “and she seems to have a wonderful time.”

She added that she’s always been intrigued by acting. “Sometimes when I watch a movie on TV, I may not be all that interested in the movie, but I love to watch the acting. I wonder about what it’s like. I think it must be a lot of fun,” she said.

Jane Domke, who is a docent at the historic Welles Shipman Ward House, said she is in the class to pick up some pointers for creating a “tavern night” for the Glastonbury Historical Society that will recreate historic characters.

No matter what their goals, Toomey said, everyone will benefit from trying something new.

If you are interested in the Summer Scene class, want to know more about other ENCORE classes or suggest a new one, contact Cathy Russi at 860-652-7605 during her office hours at the community center, Monday through Wednesday, or send an e-mail to cathy.russi@glastonbury-ct.gov.

The Riverfront Community Center is located at 300 Welles St. in Glastonbury.

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