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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 2 years ago

Senior Friendship Center to hold Holiday Extravaganza performance

The "Holiday Extravaganza" will run from Nov. 19-22.
by: Whitney Elfstrom Staff Writer

The bustling Senior Friendship Center is filled with things to do and participate in, and from Nov. 19-22 the nonprofit can add performing arts to its list of amenities.

Arthur Keyser, 90, and Irene Silver-Stender, 89, teamed up to put on “Holiday Extravaganza,” which will feature an opening performance of eight George Gershwin songs from Irene Silver-Stender’s Sarasota Senior Theatre Group, followed by three short plays written by Keyser.

“Nobody gets paid for [performing]; it’s about recognition when you get older,” Silver-Stender said. “To be recognized and have people stand up and applaud you is a wonderful feeling. It’s amazing. I never thought that as senior that I would still have the clickety-clack brain [for it].”

Arthur Keyser began writing plays at 80 years old.

Keyser will produce “Molly’s Secret,” about the friendship between three 70-year-old women and what happens when one of them goes missing only to show up three months later; “A Brief Encounter,” which takes place in a stuck elevator; and “The Prize,” about the dynamics of a retirement home where there are twice as many women as there are men.

This is the second time Keyser has ventured into the Friendship Center to put together a production. In March, he produced three other plays there. 

Playwriting became a second career at age 80 for the retired corporate lawyer.

He has written 40 short plays and seven full-length plays since stepping away from the business world at age 75.

“This is not a hobby,” Keyser said. “It has become a profession. I spend every day doing it. I don’t do it because I want to make a living, but I would never consider it a hobby.”

A former dancer, Silver-Stender grew up in the performing arts world. She tap danced in front of audiences at age 3.

Irene Silver-Stender coaches the singers through rehearsal.

Silver-Stender was active in Tampa politics with the League of Women Voters and worked with the city’s zoning board.

“When we came to Sarasota, I was retired, and I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’”Silver-Stender said.

Her answer? To start taking dance classes at the Senior Friendship Center. From there the Sarasota Senior Theatre Group was established in 1999.

Silver-Stender has held several performances at the center before, but she said that there’s something that sets this performance apart.

The first is the opportunity to recognize each individual singer before they perform. Normally, singers are lumped together in a choir, she said, but this performance allows for each soloist or duo to introduce themselves.

The second change is a real stage, thanks to a grant from the Sarasota Senior Theatre Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

In the past, performers have had to dance, sing or act from the floor, Silver-Stender said.

Joe Longtin and Sheila Weiser rehearse "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

The grant will allow “Holiday Extravaganza” to be the first show to have a proper stage, complete with wings, side railings and reflector tape along the front of the stage to ensure performers don’t fall off.

All proceeds from the performances will be donated to the Senior Friendship Centers.

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I’m the Sarasota community reporter, which means I cover the people, places and things of Sarasota. I graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a degree in journalism and digital communication and a minor in English. 

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