Social distancing at the PrimeTime Players/WiseUp picnic and theater games event Submitted photo

Ingraham Park on Sept. 26 had its share of drama, as members of Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s PrimeTime Players and WiseUp met in person for the first time in months to catch up, enjoy the perfect fall weather and play theater games.

“This is all about a celebration of life, a celebration of our community,” said Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s Artistic Director Tim Rhoze in welcoming the crowd of about 15 people, a number that grew as the day went on.

“Who knows what will happen today?” said Mr. Rhoze as he chatted with a RoundTable reporter. “We might start a revolution,” he joked, noting that many of the PrimeTime Players and WiseUp (formerly North Shore Village) members came of age during the turbulent 1960s.

The two groups have been meeting for more about a year, and remotely over the last several months.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve been virtually meeting,” said Rodney Greene, a member of the PrimeTime Players. “We’ve been doing reading virtually – this is our first annual picnic.” After serving as City Clerk for several years, Mr. Greene has spent time acting. Television viewers may have seen him in bit parts in the last few years in “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD,” among other places.

Mr. Rhoze set out markers seven feet apart for the group, all wearing masks, to put their chairs, making a wide enough circle for one or two people to stand safely in the middle.  David Chervony of Actors Gymnasium entertained the crowd with his juggling and commentary, successfully negotiating his props in a stiff wind. As performers, he told the group, “You know things are a lot harder than they look.”

Gail Clary brought her godson, Ali Logan, to the picnic. She has been part of the group for three years and said she welcomed the opportunity to get back together and visit in person with the group.

“This is nice. I like this,” said Ms. Clary.

“We’re socializing,” said Mary Dotson, known to the group as “Mary D.”

Members of the Foster Senior Club gave PrimeTime Players its name, said Gerri Sizemore, who has been in the theater group since its inception. “When Tim – we call him ‘Mr. Tim’ – became director of the theater, he came to the Foster Senior Club and said we should create a drama club. We’ve written plays with middle-schoolers and [other] young people.”

Lorelei Goldman of WiseUp said, “We’re going to create a one-act play that will be produced,” possibly in December. WiseUp members joined the PrimeTime Players three years ago. “We supported the theater, and then Tim invited us to join the PrimeTime Players,” Ms. Goldman said.

Only a few had previous theater experience, and for many, that was years ago. Ms. Goldman, who said she had always loved the theater, said when she had won an award in high school. Speaking off camera for PBS Channel 11, she announced, “WTTW – your window to the world.”

For some, the group offered excitement and opportunities in after retirement. Nancy Bashook of WiseUp said she appreciated the diversity. Dorothy Strong said, “I was retired and looking for something to do.”

Barbara Kovel of WiseUp said she thought this was a way to bring two parts of the community together. “With the weekly Zoom meetings, we get to know each other better.”

Theater games were of course in order, and Ms. Goldman led the group in “Zip, Zap, Zop,” in which the group members tossed around an imaginary Frisbee – catching or missing it, throwing it too high, too low or just right.

Under Mr. Rhoze’s direction, they created a one-word play, each member contributing one word in a narrative that involved Sofia, Herman and some flying penguins on a choppy sea of love.

The group then turned the tables on Mr. Rhoze, and Ms. Sizemore asked each of them to describe him in three words. They all complied, with few repetitions: “creative, compassionate, committed, charismatic” and “a community jewel,” to name only a few of the “c” words.

Apparently surprised, Mr. Rhoze said, “We’ve been together 10 years. This wasn’t supposed to be about me.”  But this time the group did not take his direction, presenting him with a plaque, flowers and a birthday cake. The event, which began at 11:30 a.m., ended well after noon with African drumming by Gilo and Miah Logan and Randy of S.O.U.L. Creations and music by saxophonist Walter Clark.