New Stage Company Features Older Actors

Acting

By John Hohn

Winston-Salem’s newest theater company, 40+ Stage Company, wrapped up its inaugural season in December with the presentation of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at Mountcastle Black Box Theater in the Milton Rhodes Arts Center, downtown Winston-Salem. The company is the brainchild of artistic director Gene Johnson, a well-known area actor and director. Johnson, 67, realized that roles are just not there for the middle-age and older actors. “That’s where the idea began,” Johnson said. “I wanted to start a stage company that would give aging adults a chance to perform.”

The company found a home in the Black Box Theater in the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts. “We had a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Johnson admitted. “Roger Wooten, the lead in our first show, fell and broke his elbow the weekend before we were to open and had to withdraw.” He was quickly replaced by another actor who read his lines from the script so well that members of the audience hardly noticed.

“Right in the middle of the season, I went in for heart surgery,” Johnson continued. “We didn’t get two weekends back-to-back for any of the shows, so we didn’t benefit from word-of-mouth publicity. As a result, audiences tended to be smaller, but those who saw the shows were enthusiastic. We survived.”

Despite the start-up problems, the idea driving the founding of the company caught on quickly. The company’s community involvement expanded with collaborations with Senior Services and Shepherd’s Center, and in aligning with Winston-Salem Writers and its affiliated Playwrights Group.

Reflecting the scope of its mission, the board adopted Transforming the lives of aging adults through the theater experience as its vision statement. Their mission statement reads: Celebrating and enriching the lives of aging adults. Projects, both planned and completed, attest to the company’s commitment to their vision and their ability to deliver. The company seeks to become a strong voice for aging adults in the arts culture of our community.

Collaborating with Senior Services, a project was launched to document the stories of home-bound seniors in Forsyth County. The goal is to present living histories of aging adults and tell their amazing stories.

40 Plus Stage Company is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and tax-deductible donations can be made at: 40plusstage.org. Bring your friends out to enjoy an evening of entertainment featuring seasoned actors and shows you’re sure
to enjoy.

Originally from the Midwest, John J. Hohn, 78, is a writer and occasional actor who lives in Winston-Salem with his wife, Melinda. He serves as chair of 40+ Stage Company.

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