The Greenspring Players--the performing arts group at Greenspring, an Erickson Senior Living community in Springfield, Va.--received high accolades for their recent production of The Sunset Club, written by resident Mary Schaller.
Mary, a professional playwright and director, wrote The Sunset Club specifically for the Greenspring community.
"It was my 43rd production!" says Mary, who moved to the community in 2016.
The two-act comedy shares the story of nine women--with varied and interesting Hollywood careers--living together at The Sunset Club, a boarding house for older women. While writing the play, Mary drew from her own experiences living at the Hollywood Studio Club in the 70s.
"It was so exciting, seeing what was in my imagination come to life on the Greenspring stage," she says.
Art imitating life
"One night, while enjoying dinner with a couple on the Greenspring Players Committee--responsible for selecting plays for upcoming performances--they shared the difficulty they had finding a show geared toward older actors and a production crew," explains Mary.
She adds, "They were looking for plays with one set, shorter dialogue, and a 90-minute maximum running time. They asked if I would consider writing something for the Players, and I immediately thought of my younger years."
As a theater arts major at the University of San Diego, Mary performed in Stage Door, the 1936 Broadway hit and later movie, set in a New York rooming house for young, Broadway-hopeful women.
"And after graduation, I worked for MGM. For five months, I lived in the Hollywood Studio Club, a boarding house for Hollywood's young women," she recalls. "It offered a bed and two meals at a reasonable rate."
She continues, "I thought it would be fun to age the characters from Stage Door, place them in a new location, and share their stories--based on my own."
Agreeing to take on the challenge, Mary spent the next two years working on the script for The Sunset Club, creating characters based on a variety of Hollywood personalities.
Perfecting the story
Once the play was written, Mary approached the Greenspring Players and asked if they could do a read-through of her script--an opportunity to see and hear the characters in action before sending the draft to her publisher.
"Several of the residents who helped me with that read-through performed the roles in the full scale production," she says.
Following some revisions, The Sunset Club was published by Heartland and placed on their online catalog. The rights were first purchased by a professional group in San Antonio, who produced the play in November 2022.
Last August, the Greenspring Players held auditions in preparation for The Sunset Club's debut at Greenspring. Resident John Carle, a former professional actor, was Mary's fearless codirector.
"I joined the Greenspring Players as a theater consultant, but I quickly got more involved," he notes.
After treading the boards in the community's production of Janet S. Tiger's Blind Woman's Bluff, John extended his talents backstage and in the wings. Now, he serves as president of the Greenspring Players.
"Sharing Mary's creation with the Greenspring community was a delight," he says.
Cast and crew
As with each of the Greenspring Players' biannual productions, 88 residents--spanning cast and production crew--brought The Sunset Club to life.
Debra Mullins, who moved to Greenspring last April, rediscovered her acting talents by playing Lillian Lawrence, the woman who runs the Sunset Club.
"Theater, music, and dance was a big part of my life," says Debra. "I performed in operettas in high school and joined my church's music ministry in my 30s. I never thought I'd be on stage again. But my friends insisted I get involved with my new community, and I'm so glad that I did!"
Ben Kittredge, also new to the Greenspring Players, was in charge of lighting for The Sunset Club's production crew.
"I moved to Greenspring a year ago from Maine," he says. "I began volunteering as an usher, then a stagehand, and now with lighting. I really enjoy being involved and learning all the aspects of producing a play. This is all new to me."
'Something really special'
After four sold-out performances of The Sunset Club, the Greenspring Players are already preparing for their next production: two one-act plays, High Window and Wanted…One Groom. Both will be directed by John.
"We're currently in rehearsals. We'll be set to hit the stage this May," says John.
Mary, looking back on her experience with The Sunset Club, is happy that John--a friend, neighbor, and fellow thespian--gets to bring another show to life.
"There is something really special about seeing something you've produced appreciated and enjoyed by others," says Mary. "It's all about making people smile, and that's exactly what the Greenspring Players do."
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