Thursday, May 5, 2011

Performance of 'Our Life Stories'

The Memory Chair (cont’d) THE PERFORMANCE!

May 1, 2011

Drama rules the day!

Behind the double doors of the auditorium, the very air took on a proprietary status; the stage almost hummed with anticipation. As I watched the chairs being placed so precisely, the props carefully scrutinized; and the staff going to and fro with all the blocks of unifying involved in a live performance; I felt the first flutter of butterflies deep in my stomach. I am sure I wasn’t alone! Eyes appeared bright and eager; smiles graced faces; muted laughter, and low voices held hints of excitement—and also a little fear!

Wrenn led us through a skeletal version of the entire production, meaning we walked the parts, but in speaking…blah, blah, became the vocal credence of each story.

We broke for lunch; I think this was mostly to let us settle inside ourselves. During the last fifteen minutes, Wrenn led us through facial warm-up exercises: the mouth, the tongue, and voice sounds. We stood in a circle, dressed in black, and all eyes were on Wrenn. She ended the meeting saying, “Have fun, if mistakes are made, no one will know! Just have fun!”

The music began, the auditorium lights dimmed, the overhead fixtures illuminated the stage—and we stepped into action mode. Only, we appeared as silent players bursting on stage, mouthing our words to ourselves. Wrenn stopped the performance and urged us off stage. She spoke of a sound problem….

We didn’t know anything else to do, but simply wait for a second cue….

The introduction music opened the show; we began anew with our Life Story segment—with sound this time—and went on with the rest of the performance. We moved with lighter steps, butterflies down to merely a quiver…. I wonder if some kind of divine providence took hold here; it seemed we found laughter in our unexpected predicament; a jocular atmosphere wrapped its arms around us—we, who in our life journey, had met much-like situations and rode unsparing failures, only to see them later turn into—triumphs!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

On Wednesday 27 April the tech crew and I arrived at 9am to set up the stage, sound, lights and slide projector...after several challenges we had almost everything ready set to go by 11:30...The cast arrived at 11am and patiently waited for us to finish up...Our tech, where we put in the 28 sound cues and half of the 120 slide cues mixed with minimal light cues ran till 3:30.  We broke for lunch and resumed at 4:30.  I had thought we would finish up before dark but before I knew it, darkness filled the outside sky and it was 8:30pm.  Alas, seniors don't like to drive at night...difficult to see.  But not once did anyone complain...Not once did anyone say, "I have to go home now or anything to that matter".   Upon my request, all had turned off their cellphones and once finished, found that many of their relatives had called inquiring their whereabouts.   Another adventure for all.  We went through the show twice.  Once for the tech and then a straight run through for the videographer.   The show clocked in at 1 hour 50 minutes.  I had wanted a show no longer than 90 minutes.  I asked who in the cast would volunteer to take one of their stories out of the broke my heart to ask.  Then Don, the videographer said, "I didn't think the show was long at all.  I really enjoyed all the stories" ...and so with his supporting words, I realized I was tired..the cast and crew were tired...and no one could think I said let's go with 'Our Life Stories' as is!     There were still places that I needed to change...staging that wasn't right...spent several nights awake trying to resolve the creative problem.  I think I ate dinner at 10:45 that night after rehearsal!...Creativity takes a lot of time.. I have a t-shirt that says:
'Time is meaningless in the face of creativity!'  How true!  How true!   And now words from our scribe, Ms. Towles....

The Memory Chair (cont’d) Tech/Dress Rehearsal

Wednesday April, 27, 2011

It’s all about the stories!

We’ve been dropped straightway into the journey all artists must go through: the bones of a performance; from the lighting setup, stage markings, seating arrangement, background screen inserts, music lead-ins, and props—and lastly—for us—the ever alertness of our involved director—Wrenn!

Today is one of those days when one must not think of time, or dwell too much on the passing of it; we simply do what we have to do—however long it takes us! We get plugged-in to the full Monty on show business. Hmmm! It was a loooooong day!

Also I must mention the free standing microphone; it becomes our NBF (new best friend); if we move to side stage, the upright black pole with the fuzzy black shaped cone goes with us; it has acquired ownership of our voices….

I think of myself as having some smarts; however, today, I find that I move as though a child, not knowing how to go from moment to moment; it appears we’ve landed in an alien place! For instance: Opening introduction lineup, although it seems a simple thing to achieve, requires several retakes before we work as a fluid group; and as Dave says, “The only thing to do in times like this is to eat…and he pulls out a baggie of goodies.”

As each skit unfolds, words are deleted, or changed, sometimes even a start-over takes place, but in the end, the story always prevails.

The riser steps to the stage look like black cropped piano keys, two on either side to merge at the top flat riser; we tromp up and down, working our leg muscles that had thought retirement meant easy rocking time!

We have lots of breaks; including a lunch time of one hour, in which Don even manages to get in a short nap.

The rest of the day belongs to rehearsals. Then the last enactment: dress the part, speak the words, and put on our professional faces—we are to be videotaped for this final run-thru!

Can Youtube be waiting in the wings?

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life Stories Class Twelve

20 April 2011
A long day of rehearsing, revising and rehearsing once again...nice lunch break with the ladies at a fabulously delicious restaurant and then back to rehearsing.   I am such a work horse, I forget to take breaks and no one mentioned stopping.  What patience, commitment to the process, dedication and flexibility are present at every class/rehearsal!  And equally important, everyone's support of their fellow actor/writers...All working together in this creative process!  
22 April 2011
I met with Willie and Ted to rehearse, 'The Handcuffs' scene written by Willie.  When we arrived at the Community Center - it was closed!  The skies were hovering with pouting gray clouds and a list mist of rain with promises of heavy showers.  I asked if they would mind rehearsing outside.  Without a moment's hesitation, they both agreed...No whining...both enthusiastic to work outside in the chilly, misty afternoon of a 'Good Friday'.
To the rescue arrived Evan, Technical Director of Matthews Playhouse who offered to let us rehearse in the warehouse/tech shop of the Matthews Playhouse.   What an adventure we had driving down to the warehouse, past the locked barriers.   And then two hours rehearsing in the cavernous space filled with remnants of past productions.    We all joked about Ted and the handcuffs...  Wrenn

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 21, 2011

This is week twelve—our final meeting as a class unit. And ten days till—Showtime!

To open this wrap-up week, Wrenn had us working our voices, exercising our tongues, waking up facial muscles, and laughing as though having heard the greatest of jokes!

We moved next into the enactment of our stories: seven skits were rehearsed, and the last performance was a poem by Lynnsy—of which each of us were given a foam red ball to wear over our noses—the gist of it being the title of her poem: Red Noses. (And as one would expect, laughter broke out again as we saw how changed we all looked sporting a bright red bulb in the middle of our faces).

We broke for lunch, and the afternoon was rehearsal time…and also discovery time: we went waaay over our time allowance. Plays have to be revised, monologues have to be edited, and only a handful of skits escape the editing round.

As Wrenn says, “changes happen, even up to the drawing back of the curtain!”

I wrote this last blog in my mind several times over, and like the line above, changes occurred there, too: my heart fills to overflowing with words; my head tells me to put a lid on them!

So…I am ever so grateful to have shared time with this marvelous group of people; we bring a diversity of circumstances to the table, we come together when our lives have traveled many paths, observed and been a part of history in the making; and we’re now able to tell of certain events as though the story belongs to a stranger, and not of ourselves….

I have learned much, pushed back tears, laughed a lot—and found out that lengthy chair time on a steel bottom seat leaves much to be desired.

See you on stage!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two Weeks Till Our Show!!!!

A long nine hour day yesterday filled with laughter, tears, drama, comedy...'Aha' moments and lingering questions...ponderings...and again 'Aha, now I understand'...
The challenge of memorization was holding many back from 'telling their stories' from their hearts...I reminded them that they could hold their scripts...or put their lines on notecards...with scripts in hand, their stories flowed trippingly off their tonges (Shakespeare 'Hamlet') and into our hearts...several times I joined them with my tears and most often I had chill bumps leaping to my skin...Again I say 'BRAVO' to my students for continuing to seek ways to 'make their stories better as well as their performances'...Nine hours nonstop and yet when I returned home I continued to work fueled by the energy of my students and friends.  I only wish I could make a real living doing what I do best...teaching and is my mission in life.  To change lives all for the betterment of humanity.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is the eleventh week of Life Stories class; one weekly session remains, and only seventeen days until—Showtime!

Like last week, our timetable for today is geared toward making our stories come alive!

The hub of action is located at a table in one corner of the room where Wrenn, wearing her director’s hat, manages the moment: getting the ad-libs in place, the gestures, the looks, the pauses, the body language, and the necessary background vocal sounds.

Before I go any further into this blog, I want to give a thumbs-up to our benefactress, Wrenn: the plate of cookies was over the top; many thanks for feeding those of us with a ‘sweet’ tooth! Hey, Don—we had food today! Remember?

Mid-way the morning, posed, costumed pictures were taken of a number of the stories; still shots depicting the essence of the storyline behind the photos.

We were given a diagram of the stage and as each scheduled presentation took place, a character’s floor placement was added to the scripts; also word changes, some added, others deleted; and narrations became action scenes with only certain pivotal speaking words.

As the meetings have piled up, our shared stories have linked us in a unique way; we’ve been gifted with insights into the lives of a roomful of once strangers, who now feel like long-time friends. We’ve abbreviated the usual required time of ‘getting to know each other’ by simply getting inside our heads—and hearts, in a few short weeks.

Next Wednesday is the final class meeting and rehearsals will rule the day: a morning session, lunch, and then an afternoon run-thru. All stories will be performed and given a final scrutiny with many eyes following scenes that are becoming like we own them as a group.

During this last time together as classmates, we get to watch the complete play as it will unfold on stage; we get to see our past tied up in skits, and whether the story is one of sadness or joy, of an accounting of the times, or a confession from the heart, or a glimpse into the ‘winter’ of a life, we will have lived the circle of emotions surrounding our lives—and all this within a 12 week time frame!

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Friday, April 8, 2011


For the past two months I have been directing 33 young people aged 7 - 16...thirty three energetic creative and very kind young people of various levels and skills.  Some are performing onstage for their first time...some have been in all three plays I've directed for Davidson Community Players Connie Company.  I didn't like the script but found a way to make it work both for my artistic needs as well as an educational vehicle for the actors involved.  I chose to conceptualize the play in 1945, when the book was published by E.B White.   I saw it starting off on a street in NYC (the script has a narrator telling the story...I wanted the narrator to be a character in the divided the narrator parts and gave them to the various characters in the play)  in early morning with birds and cats entering and then people starting off their day buying newspapers and waiting for the bus...I wanted to put an opening 'swing time' dance in the play and one of my actors suggested May 8, 1945 and the celebration of D-Day, end of the war in Europe!  Great idea!

Another topic we discussed was the importance of women in the work force since so many men were fighting in the war.  The ensemble has done a bang-up job of creating interesting characters and eight year old Dwayne Allgoods a spectacular job of learning a bizillion lines and leading the show with his innocence, strength and energy. Eight of the nine shows were sold out before we opened and the ninth show sold out this past week.  BRAVO Cast of STUART LITTLE!!!

Life Stories Class Ten

The excitement for our performance everyone leans forward watching one another explore the actions behind their stories...all searching inside themselves while seeking the truth of the moment in their words...I wonder if I would take such a leap into the unknown...perhaps if the unknown were something I had always dreamed of doing...of experiencing...Thank you Willie for such astute observations and recording.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is week ten of Life Stories class…only a dozen plus days before the last scheduled meeting fulfills the enrollment specifications….

And change, again, starts the day. We skip the mind and body exercise—the energy in the room is already soaring, and we’ve put on our acting hats that ready us for whatever Wrenn throws our way.

We visited the auditorium where the show will be performed and gathered on stage; centering our minds on the logistics of actually stepping inside an actor’s skin. We went to the dressing area where counters line both sides of the room, and mirrors take up wall space—everywhere—perhaps a last minute aid in getting the inner mind as well as the outer side ready for the role to be played?

I listened to the low buzz of voices as we made our way back to class—soon-to-be ‘stars,’ coming from all directions, elevator, and an assortment of stairways.

Wrenn chose six skits for today’s rehearsal: Carolyn’s monologue about love, Marti’s anecdote of an unsettling relationship; Hess, with a love letter to his wife, Lynnsy’s story spoke of having the freedom to choose; Christine’s read on skipping school at the age of five, and ‘life’ with her grandmother; and also, my story about the break-up of a marriage, and the consequences that follow.

In the remaining two weeks, there is much work to be done: filling our minds with text, perfecting the proper emotion at the right time, staging floor placement for better delivery of script’s message, and last but not least, choosing a costume to fit the action…are we racing headlong into an unquenchable thirst of—‘acting fever?’ Hmm!

Wrenn gave out books that consisted of all the stories to be presented; and we rehearsed the intro of My Life Story is…bringing us ever closer to the day we speak our written words into existence. For…words in print remains an unstirred story until other eyes read them—silent, until a voice gives them a place in a listener’s mind.

And that’s what our play is really about—the sharing of our lives in story enactment!

Elizabeth (Willie)

Thursday, March 31, 2011



I am directing Stuart Little for the Davidson Community Players Connie Company.  It plays April 2,9 at 10am; 1pm, April 3,10 at 1pm; 4pm and April 8 at 7pm.  Tickets are only $7.  Several shows are sold out, so it is advised that you make a reservation.  It is such a fun 60 minute show with 32 actors in a 1945 conceptualized Stuart Little.  
Call:  704-892-7953
See you at the Theatre!!!

Life Stories Class Eight

Every week I am energized working with my 'Life Stories' students....every week uncovers innovative talents hidden within each as they courageously step forward to tell their to the suggestions of the class...and to my direction...One student said she had been practicing in front of a mirror so she could 'show' the emotion of her work.  I asked her to put her paper down and tell me the story...and then she came alive...her characters were real and in the room with she changed from a teenage girl wanting an education to the father who wouldn't allow her to go to school.  Afterwards, she knew that she didn't need a mirror to find the 'heart' of the story...she only needed to tell what was in her heart.

Willie continues to journal the process so beautifully and true.  While there are only 3 more scheduled sessions, I will be adding more rehearsals for this ever so important work.
Thank you Willie

The Memory Chair (cont’d)
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
This is the ninth week of Life Stories class, and the remaining rungs on the down side of our ladder are much nearer the floor.

I mentioned change had joined our group—it now shapes our weekly agenda, weaving in and out among the familiar exercises our bodies and minds have grown to expect. And presently, we’ve given the Bard, Shakespeare, a respite from fracturing his masterful list of insults. The time has come for us to step out from under the cover of his clever mind and find the treasure-trove of uniqueness in each other.

Wrenn asked that we take the prompt of My Life Story is…, and fill in the blanks, making a short statement of defining ourselves—this will be a lead-in for the production of our play, titled: Life Stories, scheduled for May 1, 2011.

Improvisation time followed. From the list of Life Stories Outline Draft, Wrenn chose five skits to be rehearsed; only one was a repeat, War Times; however, two new contributors joined in, making it a five member group endeavor, and greatly intensifying the drama of the scene. Barbara’s anecdote revealed a tale of want in New Shoes; Don’s monologue spoke of Real Men; and with Jane’s story, Who is that Lady?, the inspiration came from an afternoon’s visit with her mother. The last new performance belonged to Dave, and was titled, The Garden.

And all the while, as each memoir exposes the bones of its story, Wrenn goes into action: glasses off, hands waving, and stopping the scene with, yep—change. She takes out words, adds other words, directs a different emotion, suggests a new stage placement—and gently, but surely…in the end, molds the scene to her liking.
We have three classes left to determine how to represent our stories in their best showing; only three short ‘takes’ before the final curtain opens to the immediate present where suddenly—our past becomes our future!

Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Life StoriesDesigning Our Production

A collaborative group flexible with their words..their stories..willing to try anything....all filled with the courage to explore new leap and leap and fly!  Leading and being led by this amazing group of people is a new chapter of fulfilling my life life story.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This is week eight of Life Stories class…and the climb down the other side seems to be moving faster than the climb up the first half of our journey’s ladder.

Change has become the norm: the chairs are once again spread out against the walls, pulling in slightly at the corners to make a ¾ circle. Wrenn mixes it up in the ‘warm-up’ activities with a face, mouth, and tongue exercise, saying this will prepare us for what’s ahead. After we stretch everything above the neck: making our faces appear as though looking in one of those ‘funny’ mirrors at a circus, drawing up sounds from our throats that would have us being picked up by the local authority if witnessed; and uttering vocal phrases that defy translation; she at last says our faces, tongues, and throats are loosened enough to go forward with today’s program.

Today, we will speak our stories into existence.

We are partnered in groups; each group has to review and work up an improvisational presentation for a story already selected by Wrenn.

Six skits are showcased: four of the stories being repeat improvisations; only this time around, the action more fully developed. The first new story involves Mardell’s depiction of her moment in the limelight—literally—one of those ‘oops, there goes the pants’ scene that stays with you for life! The last interpretation, a stand-out performance belonging to Don, Hess, and Ted; a trilogy on dealing with the serious complications of war times: lives changed forever…or the final loss—death of loved ones.

The assignment for next week centers on developing interesting skits, and given a time limit of about an hour of performance time, we are feverously scrambling to make a playbill that keeps the audience glued to their seats and waiting breathlessly for the next scene.

And of course, each performer, just before stage entry, will get that all time, grand edict of show business: Break a Leg!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life Stories Class Seven

The students in the class grow closer with every session.  The last group of stories today and next week we start work on editing, rewriting and rehearsing the stories....We have the bones...the foundation...onward to adding the layers of definition, detail and wonder!

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This is week seven of Life Stories class and we have now gone beyond the apex of the scheduled plan.

The chairs remain in the close circle of last week’s arrangement, and as Wrenn opens the class with our ‘coming alive,’ maneuvers, we respond with familiarity. We quickly follow her lead when she makes a transition and takes us into another activity—well, perhaps not all that quickly! For instance, we were told to call out a number, being we were fourteen count (with Wrenn), and one was supposed to speak a number spontaneously, but never two people in unison; it was supposed to be, 1, 2, 3, etc. It took us some time to count impromptu; and in sequence without the sound of that second voice riding the same number. An exercise in preciseness, hearing…and paying attention!

We usually sing a song and I try to sit by Ted whenever possible; I enjoy his masterful melodic tones resounding in my ears.

Story time came next, and like last week, we read them fully and out loud again; most writing pieces centered on grown children, grandchildren, and close relatives. Christine ‘talked’ her story, and all eyes were on her, following her soft voice as she went about her narration. Ted chose to read his assignment; the message was on the accountability in living one’s life. There was much discussion between the stories, a spoken word or a phrase that opened the flood gates on our thoughts….

Lynnsy was the final participant; she sang her anecdote: You Gotta Have Heart! A winner—we all have a lotta’ heart!

The next topic consisted of handouts of a summary of all stories turned in for six weeks; we had to designate the genre of each story. From this, the assignment for next week is to choose three stories from our six weekly assignments that show improvisational possibilities.

Time to act-up is just ahead!

Lynnsy had one final surprise; she raised her left sleeve to reveal none other than a kaleidoscope of color, an abstract tattoo in a Picasso styling that dazzled the eyes. The painting ran from her wrist all the way up to her shoulder. I had told Sandy earlier that when I looked over at Lynnsy, I had to smile…she struck me as having a whimsical soul—the tattoo was a nice fit!

Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sixth Life Stories Class

Our class has formed a very strong bond.  They are already fearing the end of the program and talking of ways to keep it going....and we  haven't even performed on stage in front of an audience which is when the stage bug really bites!   Yesterdays class was filled with emotional stories of lives...laughter and tears... smiles and deep sighs...holding of hands and hearts.  We have created an ensemble of writers,  And so Willie's journal of class six.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday March 9, 2011

This is the sixth week of Life Stories classes; we are mid-way in our twelve week schedule.

And all has changed!

The first clue came with stepping into the meeting room; the chairs no longer sit next to the walls, they sit close, in a circle, in the middle of the room; and when doing the body wake-up routine, and the long breath in—and out, it was as though we had turned a corner in getting to know each other.

For instance: when Dave read his story about his wife and dealing with the life-threatening disease of Cancer, it seemed so natural and easy a thing for me to grab hold of his hand while he spoke of that heart-wrenching period of their lives. We were all transported to that time, living it with him though his words…and seeing him with new eyes. We have climbed that wall of separateness and found a sense of unity.

Another shift today: stories were read out loud and fully, and although Christine and Ted chose to tell their stories, it was another subtle change, adding a depth of personal interconnecting.

Ted spoke of having a blessed life, so normal in every way, wonderful in the fact of no great tragedies, no problems that defied solving, and a marriage still solid and steady; yet this is in itself a miracle, and normal doesn’t even begin to fit the fine essence of his life.

Today was like a meeting around a large, round kitchen table, we shared our stories in ‘The Memory Chair,’ and smiles, laughs, and grins rode faces time, and time again. We settled in our new bonding like long time friends…family!

Fate was among us today…waiting for the right time to tell a story. And the story was authored by Lynnsy who wrote a tribute to each of us, also to Wrenn, our director. It was the right time, a wonderful choice of words, and the best possible ending to this morning’s Life Stories class.

Elizabeth (Willie)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Class Five

Every week my students discover new things about themselves while listening to other students stories...oftimes many discussions follow - such as this week.  Each week I choose a story from the previous week to use as an example of 'ways to tell one's story'.  I use the words of the story and create a scene (eight to ten lines) between two people and then the ending of the scene is improvised by the actors. This week it was Betty's important story to share with not only the class but an audience.   In her story, she wrote of being a member of the NAACP in college and after the sit-ins in Greensboro she joined a group to protest the 'white's only' lunch counter in a local department story in Concord.  People threw rocks at the protesters as they entered the store and as she sat at the lunch counter a white man yelled 'Hey there's a white nigger.  I could almost sit down beside you'...She wrote that all of her friends looked at her in scorn and when she returned to school, she was not allowed to march anymore and given office work for the NAACP.  After the scene she said she felt caught in the middle of two kinds of prejudice.  

There was much discussion between Betty and the newly enlightened students.  Afterwards, we discussed the elements of a good story and the importance of its impact on the audience.    One of my students brought me a vase of daffodils and told me I was one of the best teachers she'd ever had and another student told me she'd re-arranged all her post cancer doctor appointments so she wouldn't miss any of our classes.  I was quite moved by these words of my students and new friends.   My life's mission continues to grow!

And now the journal entry from  Wonderful Willie.

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday March 2, 2011

This is the fifth week of Life Stories class.

It began in much the same manner as the weeks before: with getting our bodies moving and into mode, then engaging our minds by way of Shakespeare with his lofty words…bringing laughter.

And too, improvisational skits showcased memories: Dave’s story of A Summer Romance; and Betty’s story of the tumultuous years of the 60s and racial protest.

Also, like usual, there were designated groups to read this week’s assignment stories and choose one for a skit: Carolyn’s arrival at the airport in complete disarray; Dave’s tale of a banner of white (bathroom tissue) trailing from his shoe as he left an important meeting; Sandy’s story of being a new lady in town and showing up with eyeliner on her lips instead of lipstick; and Jane’s memory of going to a meeting and being sighted with her skirt tucked inside her pantyhose.

Laughter often rang out. However, there was another element in the room, an undercurrent of inward thinking; Betty’s story of racial protest sat in one of the empty chairs. It served to remind us that a need remained ever present to embrace each other in total equality. I suspect many of us travelled a circuitous route to reach the point of our present day lives; and behind our outward visual image, there lies many hills and low, low valleys in this journey called Life. Although these experiences don’t ride our faces, they dwell at the back of our minds, triggered now and then by certain references.

Wrenn gave us another challenge: to write a sentence using: It was 8:46 A. M. on Sept.11, 2001 and I was…, and then to write a closing sentence for the same prompt. The second option was to write an opening sentence for the words: And I couldn’t stop laughing. This first endeavor caused another empty chair to be occupied: Sept. 11, 2001.

There was total silence in the room, heads bent down, pens raced across the paper from fingers eager to put in print that indelible day of uncertainty. In due time, each of us read our words about that day, often with impromptu comments from classmates that further took us back into that horrendous morning. A somber mood subdued the room…Ted’s words spoke an infinite truth: “…What he was hearing seemed a uniting thread that our world had changed on that day!"

Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life Stories Fourth Classs

My students continue to amaze me with stories of their lives...and we've only just begun!  This week we heard stories of romance, love, heartache and a few surprises.  As I glanced at the stories they handed in for me to read (not all stories were read) my eyes rested on Betty's story of boycotting the lunch counters in Concord, NC.  She wrote of being called foul names, spat upon and pushed around and later told by her college that she was not allowed to demonstrate...and a gentleman who, as a high school student raised a Nazi flag up his high school flagpole and to this day no one knows who raised this flag in post WWII 1949 America...he did it as a prank... and so Willie continues with her journaling of our process from the students point of view.     Wrenn

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday 23, 2011

This is the fourth week of Life Stories class and certain things are beginning to show: we are planting roots of our yesterdays’ remembrances: hellos are quick to come, smiles are instantaneous, and our body language suggests an easy camaraderie is settling between us. And, although many still wear name tags, they seem to be just a thing to put on, completing our routine of stepping into ‘a classroom atmosphere.’

As with the beginning of each session, Wrenn gets everyone out of their seat and moving, warming us up with hand waves, body bends from head to toe, and always the kicker: laughing! We next heat up our brain cells by calling on Shakespeare and revisiting his endless kit of insults where we invariably—you guessed it—find laughter, again.

Within the last couple of weeks, we’ve been introduced to another challenge: mirror mimicking each other’s movements. At first, it was a simple one on one…then five on one and this week, it was a group exercise, and there again, you can imagine how it ended—more laughter. We’re getting quite good at this laughter thing!

Next came improvisation time: Mardell and I had part-time jobs cleaning jails: clearing cobwebs, and dusting old mattresses. When live spiders were found under the mattresses, the job took on more than we had bargained for and even the money paid paled to our endurance level of tolerance toward the leggy critters.

The men filled the next playbill: Hess, Don, Dave, and Ted. The story involved a visit to a car dealer for a first time purchase of a car for the teenage son. The young man had a hard time controlling his excitement; he had no interest in his dad’s questions of: how many miles to a gallon? Was it in good condition? His brain was on fire! He was already behind the wheel; his foot ready to take flight. Did he get the car? The smile was still on Dave’s face today!

Story reading time followed: groups of four gathered close to share memories. Voices buzzed low, giggles erupted now and then, and Wrenn eavesdropped at every turn. Time soon came to choose a story to act on and preparations were quickly made.

The improvisational skits were: Jane’s story of a sometimes combative son and her first meeting of the son’s special girlfriend face to face; Marti’s story of a family dining out and the young daughter enthralling a stranger who is simply passing by; and Sandy’s tale of found love, lost love, and found love, again—then marriage and moving to Rome, Italy.

Catchphrase words came from Jane’s tale upon hearing her son’s girlfriend’s first laugh—why she sounds just like me! Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

News Article in Charlotte Observer

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Life Stories Third Class

We had an amazing third class filled with high energy and lots of laughter.  Mardell gushed how much she looked forward to Wednesdays and others greeted one another like old friends.  The stories enacted brought laughter, understanding and tears.  I am certain had we more time the class would have enjoyed discussing their memories aroused from the stories they had seen. 

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, February, 16, 2011

This is our third week of Life Stories class. We are still in the ‘getting to know you’ stage, and like the week before, most of us put on our name tags before finding a seat. It is obvious that we are attaining a cohesive balance because lots of talk goes on as we wait for Wrenn to begin the class.

Once we’ve loosened the kinks from our bodies, and tested our vocal cords for sound ( Ho, Ho , Ha, Ha Ha), we get down to business. And of course, one of those business duties was to reacquaint ourselves with ‘The Master Bard’ himself: Shakespeare! We get to throw his words of insult at each other with nary a thought of consequences…how long has it been since a person could do that and still keep one’s head?

Today was Improvisation Day: Hess, Barbara, and Julia acted out a skit that involved a man taking a woman and a five year old child out to lunch. Of which, Julia, playing the child, upstaged the scene by putting her feet on the table, wanting things her way…or no way…and as you might expect, the power of a five year old child almost always comes out the winner.

The next skit, the players were: Ted, Sandy, Mardell, and Me. The story was of a daddy, a six year old child, and a conjurer, who is trying to bring back a runaway wife with a dose of voodoo enticement. And once again, our class members really got into the background scene: the barking of dogs and the clucking of hens most likely could be heard clear up to St. John Street. In fact they were deep into their role as the skit ended with the child’s mind still caught up with the mysterious lady, Odella.

The next order of business was: dividing into groups of five to read our stories of teenage memories and to then select one story and act it out. There would be three improvisational skits to perform.

The room buzzed with voices, a laugh here and there, paper shuffling occasionally…and a body prowling in and out around the group—Wrenn.

Finally, decision time came. Barbara’s story of a family in chaos, Marti’s story of teenage discovery (what takes place in New York, stays in New York), and Lynnsy’s ongoing memory of A call to Love, were presented with actors that fell right into their roles. Great job!

The mind-catching words today came from Marti’s teenage tale (a bit of coughing here). “Well…maybe the second cigarette will be a little better…”

Elizabeth T. (Willie)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Life Stories Second Class

We had another amazing class!  People started arriving 20 minutes early and by the start of class everyone was talking to one another...not a shy person in the group..already an ensemble of people supporting one another!  Very uplifting!!   The room was filled with energy and the lights of 16 people with a thirst for learning and experiencing new things and a willingness to share their intimate life stories...I spoke with one of the students after class who asked if the story she planned to tell next week was too serious/sad....After wiping the tears from my face I told her no...that it was a story to be told..a story to be heard...a story that others could learn from....

The Memory Chair (cont’d)  Our Second Class

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This is our second week of Life Stories class and we are still wearing our name tags; this may go on for quite a while, remember, most of our members have reached what has been called that ‘golden’ stage in life: ‘Seniors.”

We are still working on the introductory phase and Wrenn got right into it. She probably had nightmares of her weekly schedule forever being a week behind, and on the 12th week as the last class ended and we walked out, one by one, she would be standing at the door saying, “but we didn’t get to the best part…acting!”

So we got started on the last eight members’ question and answer session. Many things came to light: when Dave was asked his name, he had to look down at his name tag, it was turned backwards and he had to flip it over, “Dave,” he finally said. Of course, we all laughed with him. We found out Hess is our Nature Man, he said being outside was a passion of his, and also, cooking. Don told us he is writing about his life. And Jane revealed she joined the class because she loved to talk…and always wanted to be ‘a drama queen.’ Doesn’t every class need one? Barbara’s favorite color is purple…and one other thing she and I have in common…hats…she had on a cute black one.

Wrenn asked for volunteers to do a short skit about a lady driver running a red light and being stopped by a policeman. It was a class act with Lynnsy, the driver, and Carolyn, being the cop. Needless to say, a lot of the ad-lib answers sent us into gales of laughter. What we came away with was: never drive when drinking, even if you deny it; always have your glasses on if you need them to see; and never answer the question, Where are your glasses? by saying, “I don’t know.” And also, try to keep your driver’s license up to date. It was her lucky day: Lynnsy received only a warning.

We were then divided into groups of four to read our assignment about childhood stories and to select one story for the writer to read out loud to the group. And of course, we ran over the time limit…but most of us stayed. After hearing the stories, Wrenn said we had possibilities and she could already see certain scenes being played out on our big Play Date.

We were given our assignment for next week and then dismissed in quick order.

The hero of the day was Don…with his most important question, “Where’s the food?”

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life Stories Class for Seniors in Matthews

My 'Life Stories' class started and my oh my what an amazing group of people!  We laughed, we shared stories, we felt deep emotions for one another...Truly truly an exciting first day.  One of my students plans to keep a journal of the class and has permitted me to include it here....So many stories to tell from my sixteen amazing students....Can't wait for the next class where everyone is to write a half page childhood memory (one minute)... The following was written by Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

The Memory Chair

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

There are sixteen of us and we are here at the Matthews Playhouse for a class listed as: Life Stories.

The chairs form a large circle inside the ample corner room. We are a diverse group, women as well as men, and all with one connecting thread…we are labeled Seniors, as in the time of our life’s number game. In charge is a young woman, Wrenn, who evidently has great courage; she had been the leader of children’s group, and others, and now…our group, carrying a plethora of personalities, experiences, and problems that grew us and shaped our present personas.

We will meet one day a week, for a time of 1 &1/2 hrs, for the next twelve weeks, learning life stories from each other, and eventually drafting a play from one of the stories. Along the way, we’ll have a lot of laughs, oh and ah at surprises, and give hugs when touching becomes a need.

Today, we wore name tags and were paired with another classmate. In turn, we asked each other questions and answered them out loud. Questions like: Your name? Do you have a nickname? What is your favorite color…and why? Why did you join this class? And do you have anything you’d like to share with the group? Needless to say, it was the last question that opened the flood gates of remembrance…only eight people got to participate. It seems when given a chance to have our say…we seniors really have our say. Next week the remaining eight will have their turn.

I was paired with Terry, who I soon learned had asked to partner with me, I agreed, not knowing there was more behind the asking. We exchanged names and small talk before being center stage for our questioning period. When I asked about nicknames, she said she had been called Willie, which is part of my name, and also that she was a writer. As she talked, I found many commons that we shared. Strangers upon meeting, but within a matter of quick minutes, we felt kinship by our past. After dealing with debilitating health problems for the last 10 months, this was my first attempt at stepping back into my life; and Terry seemed put in place by knowing Hands.

The class went by so quickly that I remember only a handful of names from today’s gathering: Ted, who wrote under his name tag, Donald Duck; he gave us a Quack, Quack to validate his note, Barbara, who said her stories would be coming next week, Julia, whose ready smile lit up her face; and Sandy who said she had been wanting to do something for a long time, and with a mischievous look in her eyes, she pulled up a sleeve and on the soft underside of her left arm a message read: Have Faith and Breathe…. Elizabeth