Jonesborough Senior Center hits it big with new acting ventures
By Lynn J. Richardson
The good news is that the center is producing the new show, a mystery and comedy dinner show called “Jewel of De’Nial.”
The bad news is for those who were thinking about going but who haven’t gotten their tickets yet. You’re too late; it is sold out.
But of course that is considered good news, too, for the Senior Center, said Marcia Rountree, program director.
“We wanted to do something totally different and create a different venue,” Rountree said. “Since so many people love going to a dinner show, we thought, ‘Let’s try it’ and so that’s kind of how this came about. We wondered if we could possibly pull something like that off here in Jonesborough.”
Apparently the answer is yes, as the show not only sold out, but there even a waiting list of people hoping to get a last-minute invite.
“Jewel of De’Nial” is the second show the senior center has produced and like the first – last year’s sold-out spoof on American Idol and America’s Got Talent — it appears it will be a huge success.
The idea to produce shows and plays came from Senior Center Director Joan Miller, who really wanted to start a theater group at the center.
The group started the venture with the talent show because both women thought would be the easiest kind of production to recruit willing participants.
“Having that kind of show first also gave us a feel of what kind of talent we have at the center and it was an easy format to work with,” Rountree said.
They took advantage of the popularity of two reality television shows, and it worked.
But exactly why it is working so well is a bit of a mystery, even for Rountree. At a time when many theater groups are begging for audiences, Rountree has a second sold-out production in as many attempts. She admits she is pleasantly surprised — and a bit puzzled — at the enormity of the success.
“We’re still trying to figure out why they’ve gone so well ourselves,” Rountree said with a laugh. “I do know we are attracting the baby boomers in this area who are looking for live entertainment. I think they like the fact that when they come to one of our shows, not only can they be entertained, they are supporting their community. Instead of buying a movie ticket, they are coming to see a neighbor or a family member — sometimes performing for the first first time in their life — and they are getting a lot more from their dollars spent.”
Rountree also gives much of the credit to the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s involvement in both productions.
“The JRT has been a big help with lighting, sound and props,” Rountree said. “They’ve been very instrumental in helping us put this together.”
New JRT Artistic Director Jennifer Schmidt is even making a push to work with the senior center to offer classes that will encourage members to get more involved in theater.
“They are also very interested in working with us to build a theatre troupe,” Rountree noted.
Rountree also attributed part of the success to Jonesborough Marketing and Tourism director Alicia Phelps, who she said has done a wonderful job designing posters and sending out publicity about the shows.
The latest show is also providing some unusual partnering opportunities for local businesses.
Fashion shows with clothing from Marj on Main and Kaley’s & Co. will be featured during the first act of the show while local eatery, The Dining Room, is catering the event. Several other companies have offered their support by providing sponsorships.
The ticket sales are encouraging and if enough people like the format, the Senior Center may consider doing a couple of shows a year with longer runs, Rountree said.
“Since this is our first out-of-the gate experiment with a dinner show, we’ll see what kind of response we have,” she said. “But so many people seem to like the combination of having dinner and seeing a play that we’re hopeful it will be a success.”
Future productions would also mean even more opportunities for restaurants and local businesses to get involved, Rountree added.
Created and directed by Barbara Desso, guests to the “Jewel of De’Nial” will set sail March 7-8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, 117 Boone St. As the cruise ship starts its voyage, passengers will soon learn of the case of the missing jewels.
The show will feature a cast and crew of 17. It will also showcase some young talent with the David Crockett High School’s “Opus Choir” appearing in the play’s second act on March 7. The Gay Whitt School of Dance Jr. Encore Dancers will be featured on March 8.
Attendees can have their photo taken with the ship’s captain during the half hour prior to each show’s start. One lucky member of the audience will also win a free Bahamas cruise.
This is only the beginning, Rountree said, adding she is looking ahead to the time when the new Jonesborough Senior Center is finished and open and even more productions can be planned.
“I think it’s good timing,” she said. “We are trying to build up our programming to prepare for our move to our new building. By the time we move in, we’ll already be up and running.”