Current members of the Senior Dramatic Society of the Concord Council on Aging are (back, l to r) Herb Mallinson, Jim Stoessel, Fran Gardella, Carol Latham, Bill Haynes, (front, l to r) Joanne Hines, Tillie Sweet, Bob Carter and Carol Jones.
Photo/Ed Karvoski Jr.
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Tillie Sweet personifies the showbiz motto, “The show must go on!” She’s a retired registered nurse with over 50 years’ experience in community theaters. Now, she serves as director of the Senior Dramatic Society of the Concord Council on Aging (COA).
“Once theater is in your blood, you absolutely fall in love with it,” she declared.
Her theatrical interest began as a dance student at age 2. She acted in plays from grades one through 12, then studied nursing in college.
“The nursing program didn’t allow time for extracurricular activities,” she noted. “Then community theaters came along – and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
She and her late husband, Jack, formerly lived in Arlington. There, they were members of the Arlington Friends of the Drama (now known as AFD Theatre). Her family’s 1967 relocation began their involvement with the Concord Players.
Sweet divided her time between working as a nurse and raising four children, while performing onstage and behind-the-scenes with several community theaters. In addition to the Concord Players, she worked with Acme Theater in Maynard, Lexington Players, Vokes Theatre in Wayland and Winchester Players.
She has found less physically demanding ways to remain active in theater since 1986, when her vehicle was struck in a head-on collision.
“I’ve been suffering with major nerve damage in my head, neck and back ever since,” she shared. “If I had the seatbelt on, I wouldn’t have had anywhere near those injuries.”
In the 1990s, she and Jack performed improvised murder mysteries as fundraisers for the Orchard House, a historic museum in Concord. It was the home of the Alcott family including Louisa May Alcott, who wrote and set her novel “Little Women” there.
“Louisa May Alcott was a woman before her time with an incredible imagination,” she said. “Doing the murder mysteries was a great way to raise money. The Orchard House did very well and I had a lot of fun. With improvisation, you have to be ready for anything; the secret is to stay in character.”
Additionally, Sweet portrayed Marmee, the mother in “Little Women,” at the Orchard House in its “A Country Christmas” celebrations up to 2012. Marmee was based on Abigail May Alcott, who was one of the first paid social workers in Massachusetts.
In the late-1990s, the then-activities director at the Concord COA asked Tillie and Jack to help begin the Senior Dramatic Society.
“Jack had just retired and at that point I was unable to work because of my injuries, so I said ‘What the heck, it sounds like fun,’” Sweet relayed.
Jack passed away in 2012. A year later, the activities director retired.
“The drama group put their heads together and informed me that I was now their director,” Sweet explained with a chuckle “They’re people who always wanted to do some sort of performing, but never tried community theater such as the Concord Players. They’ve actually put on some really good performances.”
The group meets for two hours twice monthly from September through June. Membership has ranged from 12 to 8 participants, most in their 70s to 90s. They perform staged readings at their COA and the United Women’s Club of Concord. According to their COA newsletter, “The only requirements are the ability to read and laugh.”
“We spend a lot of time laughing,” Sweet acknowledged. “Most people who watch our staged readings don’t care how well we do. As long as we’re having fun, then they’ll have fun, too.”
Sweet has also been involved with the Concord Traveling Players, an outreach group of the Concord Players, since its inception in 2011. Currently comprised of 10 retirees, this group performs staged readings at assisted living facilities, retirement homes and COAs.
“It’s great fun working with seasoned actors,” Sweet said. “Collectively, we probably have about 1,000 years of theater experience. We’re bringing entertainment to people who can’t get out, so we’re doing a service for the community, which has been our intent from the beginning.”
Now living in Acton, Sweet continues to enjoy interacting with performers on each end of the theatrical experience spectrum.
“At our age, people think it’s wonderful if we can get up onstage and talk at the same time,” she joked.