GATES — Anne Gunn, a parishioner at Holy Ghost Parish, is on a mission to dispel senior citizen stereotypes.
“I get very peeved when I see an older person on TV,” she said, noting they are often portrayed as “senile.”
“They have stopped living more or less,” she added.
So Gunn and a group of her senior friends in the Gates Showcase, a community theater troupe, have found a way to counteract that image — build theater sets and dress up as monkeys, donkeys, bears and other assorted animals.
The Gates Showcase presented two short plays at St. Helen’s School on May 16 — “Caps for Sale,” and “Winnie the Pooh’s New Clothes.” Gunn acted as the show’s emcee.
The first play, based on a old folk tale adapted by Esphyr Slobodinka, tells the story of a cap peddler who falls asleep in a forest only to awaken to a group of chattering monkeys who have stolen his caps. Gates Showcase members dressed up as monkeys and apparently enjoyed their roles, including repeatedly saying “Ee, ee, ee, ee!” much to the delight of the kindergarten-to-fourth-grade audience. Eventually, the peddler gets his caps back after throwing his own on the ground in frustration, an act imitated by the monkeys.
“You know what that story tells you — monkey see, monkey do,” Gunn said to the children.
After taking the children on an imaginary lion hunt, which involved a lot of flailing about of the children’s arms, Gunn introduced “Winnie the Pooh’s New Clothes.” When she asked the children if they wanted to see the story, they responded as if she had asked them whether or not they wanted an endless supply of free candy, cheering for a sighting of the famed honey-addicted bear.
In this adaption of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Winnie the Pooh’s friends all are afraid of admitting they can’t see a new outfit being tailor-made for Winnie by a sly fox in exchange for all the bear’s honey. The fox cons them all into believing that only wise people can see the clothes, so that if they admit they see nothing, they admit they are unwise. Winnie also fails to confess that he can’t see anything, and loses all of his honey in the process.
Hannah Schneible, a second-grader who said she had done some theater herself, noted that Winnie’s friends only wanted to make him feel good. However, Hannah added that Winnie’s friends did him no favors.
“You should tell the truth, even if it’s something bad, like if that kind of situation happens,” Hannah said.
She added that she was glad the Gates Showcase decided to do a play about Winnie.
“I just like the Pooh Bear because I have a lot of videos, but I haven’t seen a play about him,” she said.
Gunn noted that presenting popular children’s stories in a theater setting was precisely the motivation behind her and her compatriots’ work.
“I think it’s good for (children) to see that there’s something other than television,” Gunn said. She added that in today’s mobile society, many children don’t have the opportunity to interact with senior citizens such as their grandparents, who may live far away.
“We bring the older people to (the children),” she said.
Peggy Gleason, a fourth-grade teacher, said the school appreciated the Gates Showcase efforts.
“I think live theater is very special, and a lot of the kids don’t get to take part in that,” she said. “It just brings the stories to life. It helps them get a visual picture of the characters as if they were real.”
Gunn noted that her troupe will be performing at St. Ambrose School in Rochester in June, and that members prefer gearing their work toward children. Most senior performing groups target their fellow seniors, but the Gates’ players want to entertain children as a way of repaying the community that helped them raise their own kids, she said. Not to mention the fact that they want to prove a point, she noted.
“We still can have fun,” Gunn said.