By Caroline Corser
Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles
Picture a tall, slim, graceful dancer, wearing tights and a mini-skirted costume, coquettishly leading a troop of fourteen other tap dancers with flair, poise and agility that belie her age. That’s 71-year-old Shirley Bouck, director and producer of a seniors review show called, “Social Security Scandals.” She’s performing with “Shirl’s Girls,” a group of dancers, all age 50 and older, in routines of her own creation and direction. Her performance in this two-hour professional variety show may seem to be effortless fun for her, but this and her comedy routines represent only a tiny portion of the multitude of tasks she tirelessly performs to pull this show together week after week and year after year.
I interviewed Shirley in her home, sitting at her kitchen table. Her rapid speech and sparkling eyes gave away the whirling creativity of her mind, although she was always modest about her accomplishments and professed to be “just a dancer.” As director of the show, Shirley creates, writes, and handles every aspect of each year’s production, including performing in several of the acts herself. It’s a musical review with singing, dancing, monologues, and comedy routines. This is the eleventh year that Shirley and her partner, Marge Allemeier, have entertained seniors with a cast of fifteen women and ten men, all volunteers and all over the age of 50. Marge is the producer and business manager and gets in the act, too, singing and performing in some of the comedy routines.
Although Shirley has been dancing since she was six years old, taught dancing through high school, and put on “very mini, tiny, tiny musical reviews” with six other women when her fifth child was a toddler, she didn’t get into the senior entertainment business until after her husband died when she was 56 years old. That’s when she met Marge. When Marge asked her what she was going to do with her life, she replied, “I don’t know if I’m going to do anything, but if I do, it’s gonna be done with and for seniors.”
Like Shirley, Marge also had a background in theater and was involved in the Lansing Civic Players in Lansing, Michigan. She took the idea to their board, whose first response was, “You wanna charge money for that?” Shirley’s reaction was, “I knew that would happen. They think you can’t, and you know darn well you can.” But the board let them try, and they sold out ten shows in a 350-seat theater. Finally, after three years of performing with the limited costumes of the Civic Players, Shirley decided she would do her own costumes and proceeded to buy tuxes, shirts, and shoes for the men and build her own wardrobe for the entire cast.
About that time, someone introduced Shirley to a booking agent. That’s when they moved out on their own and took to the road with the Social Security Scandals. They’ve played in Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Michigan. In Florida, they filled a 2500-seat theater six times. Shirley believes their success is because everything in the show is geared toward older audiences. The most recent music is from the ‘50’s. She said, “I want them to go out of there whistling a happy tune—something that they remember. And I want them to say, ‘My gosh, I haven’t thought of that song in years.’”
In addition to designing the costumes for each show, Shirley is the choreographer and director for all the dance numbers. She has a musical director who arranges all the music, directs the vocal numbers, and plays the piano for all their performances. Shirley has a costume shop in her garage and a rehearsal hall and dance studio in her basement. Her life is carefully scheduled. When working for a show, she has rehearsals on Sunday afternoons. Monday evenings she works with the chorus, Tuesday nights with the “dance girls,” and Wednesday nights with the dance “boys and girls” (She calls them “Shirl’s boys and girls.”) Then on Thursdays she works with specialty acts and anyone who needs one-on-one help. In addition to directing and rehearsing, she does all the script writing and handling of the myriad supporting details that go into a complex production like this. She tries to reserve Fridays and Saturdays for herself. She said she didn’t originally intend for this to be a full-time job; it just evolved that way.
Shirley takes her responsibilities toward the cast and the show very seriously. She says she gets paranoid about getting hurt and not being able to direct the show. She recognizes that there is a certain amount of risk in putting on a show like this. She says it’s because she’s made commitments. “…you can’t count on these people being here all the time, and yet, you’ve sold tickets, and you’ve got people waiting to come.” She said that the responsibilities are “huge!” She went on to say, “Sometimes I think, ‘What am I trying to do here? This ain’t Hollywood!’”
Shirley’s only regret is that she doesn’t have a great deal of time for herself any more. But her children are happy for her. She says her daughters have said, “But, Mom, what would you be doing if you weren’t doing that?” Although she has never remarried, she said, “I’m not lonesome, ‘cause I’m never alone!” She went on to say that when she does have time alone she cherishes it. That’s when she reads. As she put it, “I’m a vociferous reader.” When she had time off between the Christmas and spring shows, she “just gulped down books.”
Shirley feels “pretty blessed” that she can do what she is doing. She said, “I love it. I hope it shows. I think it does show on stage when I get people laughin’ … or smiling. But I’m smiling all the time ‘cause I love it. I love it.” She says she already has planned how long she will continue working with the show. She’s thinking she will continue until she’s 75, and maybe she could “get by” at 76 or 77. She said, “I don’t know. Because…if all I had to do was go out and do my thing, that’s nothin’. It’s all this other stuff…”
Shirley Bouck is a model for all of us. The time, energy, and creativity that she puts forth bring her untold gratification, knowing that she has made her audiences and her cast happy. She brings smiles and pleasure to those who enjoy her shows, and she has provided an opportunity for the members of her troop to stay involved and produce something that they can be proud of. A standing ovation for you, Shirley Bouck.
Caroline Corser, Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles, speaks to baby boomers and seniors about filling your life with laughter and play. She can be reached at 661-871-9201 or caroline@AwesomeAging.com
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