Merced County Times Newspaper
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All the world’s a stage for senior Hampshire resident

 

Brenda Calbert plays a small part in the show Calendar Girls that opens Thursday and runs through Saturday at the MAC in downtown Merced.

But at 72, Calbert can relate to the production’s idea of older women having confidence and trying something new — if not completely breaking out of the molds society wants to put them in.

“Calendar Girls has so many good messages for older people,” Calbert says. “They want to have a life. They want to laugh. They want to feel what’s going on around them. This play makes us feel like ‘Dang, I have more to do here’.”

Calbert is a Merced native, former teacher and private pilot who has been spending her senior years traveling across America and around the world. And when she’s not vacationing, she’s been volunteering close to home. She’s been a tutor in the literacy program at the main library, she’s been a member of the Merced County Grand Jury, and she’s a current member of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in support of local foster children.

She’s also a resident ambassador at The Hampshire retirement community in Merced where she has enjoyed living for the past seven and a half years.

Calbert enjoys being out and about in the community, and that includes taking acting lessons with the Perennial Players — a group at Playhouse Merced that offers seniors a fun way to remain active through participation in local theater. During class, Calbert brought a great idea to Director Sandra Hay. Why not start a convenient Reader’s Theater program for The Hampshire residents, particularly for those who might have mobility issues?

A partnership was created, and now Playhouse volunteers support what is called The Hampshire Players. Every week, residents come together at The Hampshire to practice their acting parts with scripts in hand. There’s no pressure because they don’t have to memorize their lines. And then, about three times a year, The Players actually perform for their fellow Hampshire residents, along with invited guests.

The program has been a hit for everybody involved. The Players get to enjoy an alternative activity that really engages their minds, and the guests enjoy the entertainment.

“We have grown really close,” Calbert says. “We enjoy the applause. We have quite the following of fans here at The Hampshire.”

The experience was very fulfilling for Calbert, but it also inspired her to take another bold step in her life.

Though Calbert has been taking acting lessons, she has never really performed on the big stage, in front of a live audience, with paid tickets.

“That idea wasn’t really on a bucket list — because I don’t have one of those,” she says with a laugh. “I just do whatever I want to do.”

So on a whim one day in early February, Calbert took a bus downtown to audition for the Perennial Players production of Calendar Girls.

And lo and behold, she landed a supportive role.

Calbert will play Marie — one of the women in a village who adamantly does NOT want the “calendar” to be made. For the past month, Calbert has been attending daily rehearsals, along with 11 fellow actors, at the Multicultural Arts Center.

Needless-to-say, Calbert chose the right show for her attempt at trying something new.

Calendar Girls is perhaps the most ambitions production yet by the Perennial Players in Merced. It’s a daring comedy with plenty of drama based on a true life event: Members of a women’s institute in Yorkshire create a calendar for fundraising purposes — with the novel detail of using the middle-aged women of their village as nude models. The story first captured worldwide attention as a motion picture released in 2003, and was later adapted into a stage play.

On the eve of the show, Calbert says, “I have no regrets at all. They have done a great job to make it all work.”

When asked about the production’s mature content, and well, nudity, Calbert points out that the show is rated PG-13.

“There’s inferred nudity,” she reveals with a giggle, and then adds: “But you have to get nude before you can do it. … Hopefully you won’t see more than you want to see.”

One thing is for sure: Calbert’s fellow residents at The Hampshire are excited and planning to catch a weekend showing. In fact, the Hampshire staff has made the show an official outing for the residents.

Calbert says she’s more popular than ever before at The Hampshire that is home to about 80 residents.

Robin Martin, general manager of The Hampshire, a Holiday by Atria, says Calbert has become the perfect ambassador for the retirement community.

“She loves it here,” Martin says. “She is somebody new or potential residents are introduced to because she can offer a resident’s perspective on independent living with services and amenities.”

Sure enough: Calbert is sold on The Hampshire way of life.

“It’s a great way to live,” she says. “No maintenance. I don’t even have to buy toilet paper. It’s very secure here. I know I’m going to be fed if I don’t want to fool with it, or I can go out to eat. I can come and go as I please. And I have more free time than I have ever had before.”

Calbert also has family here in Merced. Her son, Craig Deal, teaches at Merced High and also coaches baseball. She has a daughter-in-law and two grandsons.

Calendar Girls is on show April 6-8, inside the Black Box Theater of the Multicultural Arts Center in downtown Merced at 645 W. Main Street. Showtimes are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The show is Rated PG-13 (due to mature subject matter) and patrons under the age of 18 will not be permitted. Parents with questions or concerns about this rating are encouraged to contact the Playhouse Box Office. For tickets, go online to playhousemerced.com, or call (209) 725-8587.

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