Theatre for the Young Heart

It’s hardly a revelation at this point to make the claim that modern society glorifies youth. It makes sense after all. Generally free from most financial and personal responsibilities, young people have the most disposable income of any age group. Consequently, the majority of products and entertainment are marketed toward them. That being said, youth is fleeting, and as time marches on, it is inevitable that those youths, who were once the nexus of the economy and pop culture, will be replaced with a new generation.

Jubilee 2012 073When you stop to think about it, this process, however intrinsic it is to the cycle of life, is almost completely ignored by our culture. Because the elderly do not buy as much, they do not get made for, and over time, that severs their connection to the world. When I asked my own grandmother once why she didn’t go out and do things like I do, or even my mother and her siblings do, she replied that most of her friends had passed and that she had trouble meeting people her own age, people she could relate to. I know that’s morbid and a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, but as is the case with most things, there is abundant reason for hope. Part of that hope is Young Hearts Theatre.

Young Hearts Theatre was founded in 1979 by Eloise Terry, a retired, internationally known professional adagio dancer and local TV performer. She is alive and well, spunky as ever, at an incredible 100-years-old. The details of her life before Young Hearts Theatre could fill books, and the legacy she will leave behind will surely outlast her already impressive lifespan. Knowing that her time to dance professionally had passed, Terry created Young Hearts with the desire to provide retired professional and non-professional performers the opportunity to contribute to the community, satisfy their desire to remain active in the performing arts and give audiences an opportunity to enjoy music from the past.

It is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization and never charges for any of their shows, but tax-deductible donations are always heartily welcomed to help DSCF2907defray production costs. Although she has stopped dancing with Young Hearts, she is  still part of the board on emeritus status, and there is an indelible spark in her eye when she talks about it. The last time Eloise Terry danced was nine years ago, and it was to the song “Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown,” which was part of a Young Hearts performance. The costume she wore still hangs in her closet today and, not surprisingly, still fits.

Don and Claudette Schlader are the driving creative forces behind Young Hearts today, and they are carrying the torch well. The former is the PR manager, and his wife is the writer and director for most of Young Hearts productions. Under their leadership, the audition and membership requirements are that you must be age 60 or over to join and you must audition at the published audition dates – usually about three months before the performances – prior to rehearsals for the show. Rehearsals for the upcoming spring show, “Kentucky, Our Homeland” are currently being held Tuesday and Fridays from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the Hikes Point Christian Church, 2601 Hikes Lane.

“Most of our shows are written and directed by Young Hearts cast members,” says Don. “My favorite shows were ‘Trains ‘n’ Things,’ my first Young Hearts appearance, and ‘U.S.A., We Love You.’ I am a former armed service member, and I loved singing and performing the patriotic tunes in the show like ‘God Bless the USA,’ ‘Battle of New Orleans’ and others.”

2014-9 Frisky Fifties 097There is a palpable sense of pride when Don talks about Young Hearts. It is obvious that he is passionate about it, which is a good sign for an organization that was founded by a woman of uncommon zeal. “Our shows are mainly homespun creations out of the imaginations of ordinary people, like you and me, and designed primarily to please our audiences and make them go away feeling happy with the world and themselves. Since our shows are presented free, supported only by free-will donations, they are attended by residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities who might not otherwise be able to do so with less affordable productions,” he adds.

Organizations like Young Hearts Theatre are important. They give seniors a lease on life, connect them to the transformative power of the arts and surround them with like-minded peers. Like the seniors in the Louisville community themselves, this company has a lot to offer and still yields bushels of energy and fun.

“Kentucky, Our Homeland,” directed by Claudette Schlader and music directed by Shirley Hawkes, will present four shows during the period of April 7-10, 2016 at the Ursaline Arts Center, 3113 Lexington Road. They are all matinee performances beginning at 2 p.m.