Theatre 55 stages award-winning ‘Pippin’

Submitted photo Beverly Hammond

Theatre 55, a theater company for artists over 55, will hold a slate of performances of the Tony Award-winning “Pippin.” The newly-launched venture’s production of the classic musical features actor Beverly Tipton Hammond.

Artistic director Richard Hitchler, after helming SteppingStone Theatre just shy of two decades, founded Theatre 55, going from children’s theatre to focusing on the elders. Its mission statement says the theater strives to engage seniors through classes, workshops, showcases, and performance.

Hitchler cast Hammond front and center, in the role of lead player in this saga of life’s age-old quest for meaning. Though “Pippin” is Hammond’s first outing as an actor, Hitchler expressed supreme confidence in the newcomer. “She compels. Beverly commands the stage,” he said, adding that part of being a director is taking a chance on new, inexperienced talent. “You certainly can tell, as a director, who can and can’t pull it off. She earned the part.”

Her musical debut is not Hammond’s first time before an audience — she is an ordained minister. Hammond also has performance experience in her background as a dancer, choreographer, singer, songwriter and vocal coach. Her only acting experience came while dabbling in amateur acting in college.

“I think probably part of her training as a minister makes [her] someone the audience wants to follow her … that is what really sold it for me,” said Hitchler. Stage presence, after all, is stage presence wherever or however it originates. “That character of the lead player is somebody that the audience has to want to follow in the story, because she opens it up, starts the whole thing. And if you don’t follow her you don’t follow what’s going on or what’s going to happen.” It doesn’t hurt, noted Hitchler, that Hammond has a strong singing voice.

Hammond came to Hitchler’s attention through cold-calling. She made an appointment, walked in the door and did her thing.

“Though I never had any authentic or official acting training — never did it professionally — I did plays in college,” said Hammond. “I’ve studied summers at the Children’s Theatre Company. I also took modern dance and ballet at Minnesota Dance Theatre, and was a dance major at State University of New York.”

Hammond says he has always enjoyed theatre and singing and believes those skills will translate well into acting in the musical. “Maybe I just have a natural ability to act because I like to talk and I like the arts in general,” said Hammond. “I’ve always kind of dabbled because I’m somewhat of an extrovert and I like to be dramatic.”

This show, something she came across by happenstance, is, it turns out, right up her alley.  “I didn’t know the director nor did I know much about the [company]. I found it online.  When I looked at their website, it was interesting because it was for actors who’re older than 55,” said the 57-year-old, who found herself impressed by the theater’s mission.

Theater 55 aims to fill a gap in the attention toward the still talented elderly. “That’s what too many people think,” said Hitchler, “that elders don’t have anything left to say or to offer. Ageism is the last accepted form of discrimination. It seems to be culturally acceptable.  That anyone over 50 should just give up and go out to pasture. But, people are still vibrant, active. We’re not done.”

Theatre 55’s revival of “Pippin” runs Sept. 13 to 29 at various times at Mixed Blood Theatre located at 1501 S. 4th Street in Minneapolis. Tickets cost $25. For more information visit theater55.org.

About Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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