At the age of 71, writer, producer and director Bill Semans said he decided to write and produce the play 'Exit Strategy' for people like himself.
The founder and long time director of the former Cricket Theatre has produced nearly 100 plays and musicals, worked on nine documentary films, written a novel and both wrote and directed the feature film "Herman, USA."
"There are a lot of us, and they're represented in the cast, the acting company and the crew, who all have had lovely careers and aren't done yet," said Semans. "And just because we've passed the 70 threshold doesn't mean you stop."
"Exit Strategy" takes place in an old hotel populated by folks who can't afford to live in a proper retirement facility.
Charles Nolte plays the part of James. Nolte, like his character, is 84. He laughingly describes himself as a decrepit actor. He's performed in nine Broadway plays, wrote ten plays of his own, and directed more than 100.
Yet, despite his substantial credentials, he said an actor his age is hard-pressed to find work. He said there are no real parts on stage for 80-somethings. But Nolte said he believes there's a potentially huge market out there for plays about people in their 70s and beyond.
"The major audience for theater all over the United States is older, and getting older" Nolte said. "So why not write a play with old people in it which might be very much more interesting to the proposed audience!"
"Exit Strategy" is named such, not because the characters are waiting to die, but because they're trying to figure out what they want to do with the remainder of their lives, and that involves finding a life for themselves outside of the walls of their shabby hotel.
Shirley Venard plays Mae. While many people her age are retired, Venard's juggling work as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, acting and coaching executives on public speaking. Venard doesn't give her exact age, because she says casting agents will look at it and assume she can only play doddering old ladies. She said that's not her style.
"I'm not acting in this play because it's about old people, I'm acting because I'm an actor," said Venard. "What hits me most is the poverty, not the age. It's the lack of opportunity, because there is no extra money for anything. How do you build dreams on that?"
"Exit Strategy" is not like a lighthearted episode of "Golden Girls" or "On Golden Pond" produced for the stage. The hotel is being shut down and the tenants need to find a new home on their limited income. The play contains a good deal of frank conversation about death, sex, health, and bodily functions. Playwright Roy Close co-wrote "Exit Strategy."
"How many sets have you seen in which there's a door to the bathroom and people go in and out?" asked Close. "Our people go to the bathroom during the course of this play. And probably get up at night, too!"
"Exit Strategy" opens Friday and runs through May 4 at Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis. Director Howard Dallin, who's 70 himself, said what he's enjoying most about putting this show on stage is the authenticity of the acting.
"In other words I'm not working with a 50-year-old actor who's trying to be an 80-year-old man - that never works!" laughed Dallin. "These are the real goods, and they bring all sorts of growls and grunts and facial expressions that come with age, and you can't replicate that."
Dallin said the only real difficulty of working with these actors is getting them to remember their lines.