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Clown minister acting again in York theater seniors program

This year, Charles Hull got a second chance at the stage. The 75-year-old Dover Township man has been away from theater for more than 40 years.

Now, he's a part of DreamWrights Youth and Family Theater's StAGEs, an award-winning program for seniors. It launched in the fall and returned this spring, allowing people ages 55 and older to learn theatrical techniques and tell stories.

Hull stopped acting at York Little Theatre when his daughter, now in her 40s, was born.

Performing has always been a part of Hull, who said he's considering a route back into acting. He played a mime in "The Fantasticks," in the 1960s, but more interestingly, the retired minister also performed a clown ministry service in his latter years of performing.

Clowning, Hull said, is about drawing people into your space. You don't enter their space. Once he learned that, he found he could do a worship service as a clown, without speaking at all. It was just like a regular worship service, Hull remembers, just done in a "clowning atmosphere."

"It had it's amusing parts, but there's very serious parts about it as well," Hull said. "It was just in the way you acted."

Forgiveness of sins was acted out by brushing people with a feather duster.

Hull portrayed, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," with a clumsy juggling routine that started with one box, then two before trying to juggle three. "I couldn't, and they'd fall so I'd stack them up and they would say, "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," on the side, Hull said. Then he would turn the boxes around to reveal the number "1" on their backs, showing three becoming one.

For being such an avid performer, Hull is a modest man. Given his background, it wouldn't be easy to get him out of his comfort zone.

"It just sort of comes natural to me," he said.

But while Hull might look to get cast in a role sometime soon, others are in the DreamWrights program for a recreational exploration.

Adults find new ways to express themselves, explore new art forms and see where it takes them, said Christina Myers, a Dallastown-based professional actress who is teaching the class alongside her husband, Luke MacCloskey.

There is laughter after every pause as a group of 10 adults work their way through acting exercises inside the Carlisle Avenue theater.

Learning acting techniques is all about giving and sharing, and it's all in good fun, Myers told the class during an improv exercise that puts people in a setting whereby each person can only say a predetermined amount of words.

Participants enjoy stumbling through the dialogue exercise that puts them on a ski slope, at a disco or in a movie theater. The freestyle conversations derive out of nothing, which makes them enjoyably awkward. This sparks the most laughter, which is why 94-year-old Dolores Quickel returned to the class.

"We're all enjoying it,"' Quickel said. "Laughter just seems to be what we do."

She likes that the exercises make her think quickly. That's life, she said.

Quickel's friend, Kathy Brunner, 71, of North York, joined this season's class after she had heard how much fun it was.

The performance exercises, which Myers lets her pupils dictate, helps develop confidence, Brunner said.

This season is the second time around for Barbara Schultheiss, 61, of Hellam Township. She likes the creativeness that comes out of her. Schultheiss has never done formal acting before, but this class has her intrigued to possibly do more of it. Myers makes it fun, she said.

"It's like finding out your inner self," Schultheiss said. "It's good to keep busy."

And since it is for people 55 and older, it can show people "that we don't have one foot in the grave," Brunner said with a laugh.

What is StAGEs?

The theater program for adults 55 and over is a collaboration among Cultural Alliance of York County, StARTSomething, and DreamWrights. DreamWrights' won the runner-up award for the Central Penn Business Journal’s Non-Profit Innovation Award in the collaboration category.

The 12-session program is led by Dallastown-based actors Christina Myers and Luke MacCloskey, who are trained by the National Council on Creative Aging.

Enrollment is limited to 20 participants with a fee of $5 per session. There are 12 sessions this spring.

The StAGEs class will put on a performance that is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. May 6 at the York County Community Foundation. Contact DreamWrights at 717-848-8623 for more information.

Contact Mark Walters at 717-77102032 of follow him on Twitter at @walt_walters.