Michele Stevenson, Yehudis Brea, Phil Berns, Eunice Kiefer, Joel Fabian and Laura Levine Gumina, seated.

Laura Levine Gumina formed the Jewish Senior Theater Ensemble to help older adults participate in group activities which can stave off heart disease and dementia.

Featured photo courtesy of Laura Levine Gumina

As they approach their 70s and 80s, baby boomers should take the stage instead of taking a seat in a rocking chair. That’s the take from lifelong thespian and playwright Laura Levine Gumina of Oak Park, who recently formed the Jewish Senior Theater Ensemble (JSTE).

Members of the generation that refuse to be invisible will perform “An Evening of Tragedy/Comedy” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, at Jewish Senior Life’s Anna and Myer Prentis Apartments, 15100 W. 10 Mile Road, Oak Park.

The production includes a dramatized reading of The Invisible Man, written in 1897 by H.G. Wells and adapted for the stage by Len Jenkin, along with some additional short-scene sketches Gumina penned called Slices of Life.

For now, JSTE includes eight cast members. Though The Invisible Man has been cast, the theater troupe welcomes seniors 67 and older to rehearse and read and take on one of the many characters portrayed in the Slices of Life sketches. For details, contact Gumina at improvtalk@gmail.com.

At 69, Gumina knows from her own experience and from concrete studies that loneliness in advanced age is physically and mentally unhealthy. Getting involved with group activities, such as participating in theater, can stave off heart disease and dementia, plus it can help shed the stigma of old age, she said.

“Boomers have never been the generation to sit quietly on the sidelines,” Gumina said. “Now that we are seniors, we are still vital people. We have much wisdom, and when we work as an interdependent, supportive theater group, we improve our performance skills as we coach each other to bring our life experiences into our work on stage.”

Gumina’s foray into the theater began in adolescence at the Will-O-Way Apprentice and Repertory Theatre, a long-gone company that was housed within an apple storehouse in Bloomfield Hills from 1942 to 1982. There, Gumina performed in You Can’t Take It with You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among others. After studying theater at Northwestern and Wayne State universities, she spent decades directing dozens of youth and adult productions, mainly at the Trinity House Theater in Livonia.

The later-in-life dating scene inspired her in 2017 to write How Old Is That Photo?, a one-act play detailing the struggles, challenges and successes of a demographic not typically portrayed in the online dating community: seniors. It was performed at Trinity House in 2017.

Gumina’s longtime acting friend Rob Papineau, 68, of Livonia, plays Griffin, the scientist who takes science a bit too far in The Invisible Man. He worked professionally as an actor doing dinner mystery theater and educational productions as well as a puppeteer.

“What I like about this science fiction role is that it looks at an out-there science experiment gone too far,” Papineau said. “But, at the same time, it carries an underlying message about the impact far-out science has on a person who loses himself, and all of the rest of society is turned upside down.”

He said older actors can bring something to the stage their younger counterparts cannot: life experience. This is harder to deliver for younger actors.

“You know, we are not dying off at 55 anymore, right?” quipped Papineau. “We have so much life experience to bring to parts, such as joys, disappointments … I have loved working with other actors my age, whose experience on stage varies from expert to beginner.

“But we all understand each other, and the program is tailored to the ability of the people. We may not do much physical acrobatics, but there is much depth we can reach in our acting, even when we are sitting.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com