For some, a dramatic stage of life

Troupe: Members of the Fabulous Fifty Plus Players find that singing, dancing and acting are healthful.

Howard Live

April 11, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eat your veggies, quit smoking and get some exercise - sage advice for staying healthy and fit. But a Howard County group credits something else for sustaining vim and vigor - theatrical involvement, which they get as members of the Fabulous Fifty-Plus Players.

A new study supports what they and the arts community have suspected all along - that singing, dancing and acting can be good for your health.

At a time in life when many people start slowing down, these folks, ranging in age from 50 to 80-somethings, do the opposite. Some of the actors are seasoned professionals; others are in the spotlight for the first time. Some don't care to be on stage, choosing to help behind the scenes with production and lighting.

"There's this beautiful melding of people who haven't done anything with people that have tons of experience," said Harriet Lynn, 57, the troupe's director. "There's a genuineness to want to be there and share."

They stage Broadway musicals and holiday shows at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City. Can't make it to the theater? Not to worry - they also take shows on the road with an outreach musical program called Remember When, performing at assisted-living facilities and senior centers.

The Fabulous Fifty-Plus Players will perform a vignette Saturday called The Fat Man during the county Arts Council's Celebration of the Arts in Howard County. While Saturday's event is a fund-raiser, the outreach performances are free, funded by the arts council and a grant from Horizon Foundation, a local not-for-profit public charity concerned with promoting health and wellness in the county.

"There is a big population of seniors in Howard County," said Amy Poff, Howard County Arts Council's deputy director. "This lets people see seniors in a positive light. And the seniors feel good about giving something to the community."

In addition to entertaining their peers, the troupe also often inspires them. "I saw the original show, and I liked it so much, I thought I'd join the group," said Dolores "Jackie" Dunphy, 75, a tap dancer. "It's a lot of fun and wonderful people."

Omar Pulliam, 69, is cast as the late composer Cole Porter in the troupe's June production of Red, Hot and Cole. Pulliam recognizes his role as an inspiration. "When I chat with seniors after, I've been told that I gave them encouragement," said Pulliam, a retired high school French teacher from Catonsville. But he says his theatrical involvement benefits him, too.

"I do it for my health. The mental exercises involved in learning your lyrics and melody and choreography keeps your mind keen," he said. "It's a mental, physical and emotional exercise, which I think is good for us all."

For Poff and other officials at the arts council, these healthful dividends are no surprise. "This is a program about health and wellness," said Poff, 26. "The arts promote emotional and physical health."

Trouble is, many folks - including potential arts donors - think the arts are a luxury, not a staple for good health, Poff said. But a study released last month supports the anecdotal evidence and points to the arts as a vital and fundamental aspect of community health and wellness.

"It validated a lot of what people who are involved in the arts felt," said Coleen West, executive director of the arts council. "These programs really provide activities that bring seniors together with common interests. They feel invigorated and included rather than excluded."

West noted that such involvement helps combat the isolation and depression that senior citizens sometimes experience. She commissioned the study, using a Horizon Foundation grant, in the hope of documenting evidence of the health benefits associated with the arts. "I think the study findings will open people's eyes to what will help," she said.

The group, in its third season, was well-established before the study was undertaken last summer, but according to the draft, released March 1, it is just what the doctor ordered. "It points exactly to the findings of the study. It's something to invest in, something to look forward to and be active in. It's rewarding for everyone," West said.

Music director Phyllis Stanley, 56, agrees. "I feel most alive when I'm singing and dancing," the Columbia resident said. "Moving around keeps the blood circulating. You don't just sit in a rocking chair. I think that I find for me, it's the way I stay young."

The Fabulous Fifty-Plus Players will perform "Red, Hot and Cole" the last two weekends in June. The group will perform a vignette Saturday at the Howard County Arts Council's Celebration of the Arts in Howard County at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets and information: 410- 313-ARTS.

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