Retired UCC Minister Brings Magic of Theater to United Church of Christ Senior Community in New Hampshire

The Rev. Dick Rush, as Tevye, and Sara Norberg, as Golde, sing “Do You Love Me?” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Shortly after arriving at Havenwood-Heritage Heights Senior Community in Concord, N.H., in 2006, retired UCC minister the Rev. Dick Rush and his wife, Anne, noticed that the community newsletter — while chock full of wonderful activities — had no articles about a resident theater group.

With a broad background in theater and theater management, Rush knew he was the right person to get one started. “I said to Anne, ‘Let’s hang out a shingle, and see if anyone else is interested in starting a theater group,’” he says.

To his surprise, nearly 30 people showed up to the first meeting. Eleven years later, Geezer Group Productions is alive, well, and getting ready for its next production.

‘Who, Us?’

Tom McNamara as Koko and Linda Dartnell as Katisha sing a lively duet from “The Mikado.”

Getting the group off the ground initially proved more of a sales job than Rush anticipated, particularly when he announced at the first meeting that the group would do “big name Broadway shows.”

After the laughter subsided, residents asked incredulously, “Us? Are you serious?”

“I’m serious,” Rush told the group. “We’re quite capable of doing it right here, with the people here who decide to make it happen. I know we can do it.”

But “we can’t do that anymore. Our memories are getting flaky,” the group responded. Dick promised to reduce the amount of memorization. And so the theater group was born.

A Legacy of Entertaining Theater

Dick Pervonga, right, plays Andy and Jane Bredeson, left (in red jacket), is Melissa in the play, “Love Letters.”

Over the past 11 years Geezer Group Productions — named after the Rush’s granddaughter called their new home a “place full of old Geezers” — has done musicals, mysteries, comedies, and serious plays. Since opening with Fiddler on the Roof in 2007, they’ve had success with such musicals as Music Man, Brigadoon, and The Mikado; mysteries like Mousetrap; and such heartwarming plays as Our Town and On Golden Pond.

To solve the memorization difficulty, Rush developed a system of color-coded scripts for each actor, printed on 8” x 5” cardstock and ring-bound in the upper left corner. With cue lines and dialogue in different colors, the scripts really help the actors, he says, although often, the actors don’t need them.

“I have discovered, over the years,” Rush says, “that my actors end up pretty much knowing their own lines without my asking them to memorize them … Their mastery of their parts and their confidence grow with time.”

The audience at Tad’s Place is enchanted by the group’s 10th anniversary performance.

The annual productions include one concert version of the music from the show at Havenwood, plus two full performances for the residents and staff at a performance center on the Heritage Heights campus called Tad’s Place. Because Geezer Group Productions is an in-house group and doesn’t charge admission, performance royalties are considerably reduced.

‘Where Did All This Talent Come From?’

Each year, dozens of residents are involved, not just as actors, but also behind the scenes: set builders, painters, shift crew members (changing the set between scenes), costumers, prop procurers and backstage prop minders — plus a host of clerical assistants, ushers, chorus singers, pianists, and workers of all sorts — are needed for each production.

The cast of “The Mikado,” from 2016.

“When we produced My Fair Lady, we counted 104 individual people connected in some way to making the performances possible!” Rush says.

Audience members, cast, and crew alike enjoy the annual performances. The actors “do splendid work,” says Rush. “They discover that they have far more talent than they ever believed … Audiences applaud and cheer at curtain call.”

The performers often write to Rush to express thanks. “Thank you for bringing so much life to, and uncovering so much talent here at H-HH,” wrote one actor.

“You have encouraged so many of us to try doing something we don’t normally do,” wrote another. A third expressed, “I haven’t been onstage since third grade. This was better than therapy for all of us!”

In 2017, the theater troupe staged “Our Tenth Year Review,” highlighting moments of the first 10 productions. But full-blown productions return next year. In April 2018, Geezer Group Productions will bring Man of La Mancha to the residents and staff of Havenwood-Heritage Heights.

“We begin rehearsals the second week of January,” says Rush. “Wish us luck.”

As the old theatrical expression goes, break a leg, Geezer Group Productions. Break a leg!

Havenwood-Heritage Hills first opened its original Havenwood Campus — New Hampshire’s first independent living retirement community — in 1967. Heritage Heights followed in 1980. Today, the CHHSM-member ministry is a faith-based, not-for-profit Continuing Care Retirement Community accredited by the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission.

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