Nextstage Santa CruzLocal News Theater 

Stagecraft: NextStage Productions Presents Theater for the Community

By Julie Horner

The curtain parts and a crescendo of applause fades to an expectant hush as the orchestra strikes its first strains. The actor’s heart leaps to the limelight. Santa Cruz County is home to unending community spirit, unlimited talent, and plenty of uncommon expression. To celebrate the return of live theater, NextStage Productions is excited to share what’s new in 2022 and invite adults who have been considering getting in touch with their inner entertainer to join the fun.

Dress rehearsal

NextStage Productions is an innovative theater arts company for individuals aged 50 and up to engage in the creative. NextStage President and co-creator Kathryn Adkins is an adjunct music, voice, and theater teacher at Cabrillo College. She and theater veteran, co-creator, and Managing Director Lynn Knudsen began collaborating in 2013 through Santa Cruz Follies, a theater group for senior actors. Adkins said, “There weren’t that many opportunities in Santa Cruz for mature actors to share their talents with the community.” In their search for inspiration, the two discovered Stagebridge, a renowned performance arts institute for older adults based in Oakland, and struck up a year-long mentorship. Ready to branch out on their own, they then established NextStage Productions in Santa Cruz under a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Adkins said, “It has grown exponentially from the core group of actors and is in demand wherever people want to have a live performance,” noting that troupes of NextStage actors have performed at veterans facilities, senior centers, farmers markets, parks, libraries, and schools. They even have a flatbed pickup now to take the show on the road.

The NextStage troupe

NextStage Vice President Sally Bookman said, “Normally we have two or three performances going per year, but coming out of covid has been challenging.” She started NextStage’s version of Readers Theater, adding movement and costuming to a type of performance that involves actors reading dramatic roles from a written work without sets or props and without memorizing lines. “We had 24 shows on Zoom,” she said, “and Clue went out on Broadway on Demand, a national streaming platform.” Now that theater can resume in-person, NextStage Readers Theater presents Six Short Comedies in Search of 26 Characters. In this performance Bookman said, “Nine people play 26 roles on the spot without memorizing scripts.” 

NextStage offers several types of classes and workshops for seniors at various locations throughout the county and through Cabrillo Extension. Storytelling and Improvisation online is structured for people with dementia and early Alzheimer’s. Power Plays improv workshop taught by Patricia Timberg provides students the opportunity to exercise hidden talents. And NextStage has introduced the Healthful Aging program for those living with Parkinson’s, a degenerative muscle disease where patients lose control of simple motor skills. Adkins said, “Anything that increases mobility is what we’re trying to help people with.” The Healthful Aging program includes Taiko Drumming classes, hosted by Watsonville Taiko, and Speech and Movement with Jocelyn Lagier and Elisabeth Brown in collaboration with EASE PD (Exercise, Activity, Support and Education), programs specifically tailored for persons diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Taiko Drumming as part of the Healthful Aging program

Christa Taylor, a NextStage member since 2013 who plays “Salt” to Larry Novick’s “Pepper” in the upcoming Salt and Pepper segment from Six Short Comedies in Search of 26 Characters said, “When you hit a certain age, we all need camaraderie, especially those who live alone.” Taylor is excited about the gratification and self-worth she sees her fellow participants gain from being part of NextStage Productions. “We need joy in our lives. We’ve been having so much fun! But it’s not just performing, it’s health and wellness, it’s caring about people.”

Six Short Comedies in Search of 26 Characters showtimes:
Saturday, April 23 from 2:00 to 4:00 at the new Capitola Library
Sunday, April 24 from 2:00 to 4:00 at the Midcounty Senior Center on Bay in Capitola
Saturday, May 7 from 2:00 to 4:00 at the Downtown Library in Santa Cruz
Saturday, May 14 NextStage presents an Open Mic at Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church in Aptos, a benefit for the new Veteran’s Village at Jaye’s Timberlane in Ben Lomond.

Photos contributed by NextStage Productions

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