After a decade of bringing theater to seniors, the Atlanta Theatre-To-Go traveling company is making a big move of its own, expanding from its base in a Sandy Springs house and hiring its first executive director.
“I am looking forward to having more creative time and to seeing my “baby” blossom into its full potential,” said founder Sondra Ilgenfritz, who has stepped down as president to serve on the company’s board and devote more time to playwriting.
Lois Keopke, the new executive director, has a resume that includes forming a troupe of senior dancers to perform at the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team’s halftime shows.
“I’m really jazzed up about what I’m doing and joining this organization,” Keopke said. “Seeing what they are doing and bringing this joy to seniors, it’s really cool.”
Founded in 2007 in Ilgenfritz’s Sandy Springs home and regularly rehearsing there, Theatre-To-Go’s professional company travels to senior living communities, senior centers, churches and synagogues, bringing a theatrical experience to seniors, some of whom may not be able to go to a traditional theater.
Three plays and a musical are performed each year, often written by local playwrights, including Ilgenfritz. Beyond the 60 or so performances put on each year, Theatre-To-Go offers history tours, and such interactive works as “reminiscence theater,” where a memory from a participant is turned into a script, which is then performed in front of family and friends.
“We are ready for our next stage of growth,” said Ilgenfritz. “For 10 years, we have been a largely volunteer-driven organization fueled by an entrepreneur with a passion and a mission. Thanks to generous sponsors and donors, we are now able to move into a professional business model with the funds to hire expert help.
“I hope that Lois can create the type of buzz that makes Atlanta Theatre-To-Go a catalyst for other communities throughout our nation to harness and utilize the creativity of our seniors,” added Ilgenfritz, who will continue to serve on the company’s board.
Koepke spent 22 years choreographing and creating halftime shows for the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks. She formed the “SeniorGee!” dance team in 2006, a group of dancers ranging in age from 60 to 85 who auditioned and performed during halftime, and calls it a highlight of her career. She was inspired by a Miami Heat performance at an NBA All-Star game involving seniors, and adapted it to her own.
“They’d start with a classic routine, and then switch into hip hop. They brought the house down,” said Koepke. “They were the most popular entertainment group I’ve worked with.”
“The work ethic was just awesome, and they just wanted to entertain,” Koepke said of working with the dancers. “A piece of me says, I know what seniors can do, and what they are capable of doing when they are jazzed about the arts, and then actually perform it.”
Koepke retired, but after a recent move to metro Atlanta, she said, she wanted to get involved in her new community, and was interested in working with nonprofits.
Koepke has expansion and upgrades in mind for the theater company, such as bringing more technology to the organization as well as creating a unifying brand.
“It’s time to reach a broader audience, and my role is going to be funding. I want to bring more performances to more places,” she said. “I’m the one to make sure we function really well in order to continue the mission.”
Theatre-To-Go rehearses and operates out of Ilgenfritz’s home, something that has worked smoothly for the last 10 years, but Koepke would love to have access to a rehearsal space or office space, perhaps in a community center. For one upcoming performance, the company is rehearsing a Tucker church.
“My goal is to partner with an organization that would like to serve as a home for Atlanta Theatre-To-Go. And I say that very loosely, but it could be a place where we rehearse and partner with them to give their residents free theater,” she said.
The company is currently touring a musical comedy called “Every Day Is Tuesday,” with stops including the Berman Commons assisted living and memory care residences in Dunwoody.
For more information, see AtlantaTheatreToGo.com.