Many of the retired or semi-retired members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at California State University, Dominguez Hills will undoubtedly see themselves reflected in “Songs for the Second Half,” by Barry Bortnick. A performance of the one-act musical will take place on Oct. 10 in the Recital Hall, Rm. A-103, in La Corte Hall.
“‘Songs for the Second Half’ deals with themes that OLLI members will find familiar, especially as they look at retirement, other transitions in their lives and the goals they want to set for the ‘second half,’” says Jim Bouchard, coordinator of OLLI at CSUDH. “The musical has a very positive message about being productive and happy in the second half of life.”
Bortnick is the founding program director for OLLI at UCLA and supervised its humanities programs for 22 years. He began writing “Songs” five years ago based on his own attitudes toward aging and his observations of what others were encountering in their own “second half.”
“This may not be true of everybody but for the people I [portrayed] in writing this, the second half is an awareness of time, getting in touch with a sense of conscious living, the importance of choices, working on relationships with other people, or healing the past—above all, making this a time to pay attention to the meaning and quality of one’s experience,” Bortnick says.
Sharon Newman teaches in the Program for Older Adults and the English as a Second Language program for the Los Angeles Unified School District and has directed “Songs” with Bortnick for the last two years. She is also an acting instructor and talent manager for senior actors. She says that the ability and desire to examine one’s life often surfaces later in life because “many people are living their lives focused on the immediate: on career, finance, family, and solving day-to-day problems. They don’t have time or make time to be reflective.”
Bortnick, who wrote the music, lyrics, and “book” of the musical, describes the “oldest” character in “Songs,” a man named Paul who has recently retired from an executive position and is now faced with finding out who he is without the identity of his career.
“People in their second half are no longer just thinking about the next challenge around the corner tomorrow, but rather what the quality of their life needs to be,” says Bortnick. “Many of them become aware of legacy or what they want to leave of themselves to others. Paul goes on a journey of [finding out] ‘Who am I?,’ from defining himself only by his job to defining himself by the meaningful relationships he has with his wife, his son, and his grandson. There is meaning in [knowing] you have affected important people in your life in a positive way.”
Newman says that audiences are deeply affected by the experience, as are the actors who audition for “Songs.”
“When we audition performers in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond, they walk out of the audition telling us how much they connect to the story and how much it means to read for characters that are their life’s journey,” Newman says. “The audiences don’t leave the theater when the performance is over. They want to talk about how it’s touched them, and where else we could [present] the show.”
“They become real fans,” says Bortnick, who is also the production’s musical director. “They laugh at all the right places and are moved by the more touching moments.”
According to Newman and Bortnick, the humorous aspects of “Songs for the Second Half” are its mainstay and part of its appeal to audiences of all ages. Newman says that coping with aging includes “the fact that we can look at our lives and laugh at ourselves, laugh at our behavior, mistakes, and choices.”
Bortnick, who will be teaching seniors how to write their autobiographies this fall through UCLA Extension says that the motif of lifelong learning is evident in “Songs,” with twists such as the protagonist and his wife, who discover unexpected quirks in their 45 year marriage while taking a course on using email.
“There’s humor in that because they have to go a long way to really understanding each other,” says Bortnick. “They do a [lesson] on dating and find they like each other better online.”
“Songs” has been performed at the Skirball Cultural Center, CSU Los Angeles, and for both UCLA Extension’s OLLI and an intergenerational audience of UCLA students, parents, grandparents, and community leaders. Cast members have included actor Barry Gordon, a Tony Award nominee and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Emmy winning actress Barbara Keegan.
“Songs for the Second Half” is presented with funding from OLLI at CSU Dominguez Hills. To enroll and attend the performance, OLLI members and non-members can call Extended Registration at (310) 243-3741. Tickets are $10.
Space is limited at this venue, so advanced reservations are recommended. Any remaining seats at the time of performance will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Following the performance will be a discussion with the cast and director.
OLLI at CSU Dominguez Hills is an educational membership organization for ages 50 and older that promotes lifelong learning, acquisition of new skills, and cultural enrichment courses and activities. Members can enroll in a variety of courses led by CSU Dominguez Hills faculty or experts in a variety of fields – including fellow OLLI members. Activities include discussion groups, special lecture series, and field trips to museums and other cultural and historical destinations in the local South Bay and Los Angeles area.
For more information about OLLI at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here or contact (310) 243-3208.