USF Sarasota-Manatee professors assist theatrical production

Drs. Kathy Black (left) and Valerie Lipscomb.

Drs. Kathy Black (left) and Valerie Lipscomb.

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 17, 2015) – Drs. Kathy Black and Valerie Lipscomb’s interest in age-related issues is well established, but few might know that the two consulted on a theater production connected to aging.

The USF Sarasota-Manatee professors consulted over the past two years on “Old Enough to Know Better” set to run at downtown’s Florida Studio Theatre in two weeks.

“It has a lot of theatrical flair,” Dr. Black, a professor of social work and gerontology, said of the production drawn from close to 100 interviews with Sarasota residents 50 and older. “These are the stories of our lives as told by people reminiscing.”

The two were contacted a couple years ago as the idea to chronicle and dramatize the aging process began to take shape. They gave suggestions and sat in on rehearsals as the work shifted to the stage. Dr. Lipscomb contributed further by script consulting.

“Valerie and Kathy have been two of our most consistent and ardent supporters on this project,” Project Manager and Director Jason Cannon said. “They provided us with research, larger context, expertise, and invaluable contacts.

“Both of them have provided insightful feedback, encouragement, and provocative questions,” he said.

The production is based on interviews with a cross-section of residents of varying races, economic levels and sexual orientation. Composite characters drawn were formed to reminisce on stage about their lives and mull aging’s ups and downs.

What emerges is mostly light-hearted and entertaining, Dr. Black said. “It’s not a comedy but there are many funny moments, but there are also poignant moments dealing with loss and pain. I particularly like the positive aspects that are shared in the vignettes.”

After rehearsals, “talk-back” sessions provided those interviewed an opportunity to voice what they liked and didn’t like, enabling for production tweaks.

The result of the two-year effort is set to debut July 30 and run for two weeks at the Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N Palm Ave. Tickets are $34-$36 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at (941) 366-9000 or at floridastudiotheatre.org.

The show comes as age-related issues are drawing more attention in Sarasota.

In May, Dr. Black and The Patterson Foundation unveiled “Age-Friendly Sarasota,” a multi-partner effort to make the county “age-friendlier” for people across their lifespan. Then last month, Dr. Black announced a countywide survey to develop a blueprint of possible age-friendly changes.

She said she hopes the play spurs more discussion about aging. “We should celebrate life at all ages,” she said.

Age-related issues are similarly important to Lipscomb, an assistant English professor who teaches British and American literature. Her research combines age-related and theater studies. Her current book, Act Your Age, examines the performance of age in modern drama.

As for their combined effort on “Old Enough to Know Better,” the professors said they hope to draw lessons from the experience to go toward an article. Like Dr. Black, Dr. Lipscomb said she enjoyed watching the production go from the interview process to the stage.

“It’s really rewarding to be able to be take the theory of what we are working on at the university and apply it and engage the community in a way that will, I hope, make a difference in the community,” she said. “This is just one example of our engagement in the community.”