Jake Johnson deposited “That’s Where They Knew Me When”: Oklahoma Senior Follies and the Narrative of Decline in the group Music and Sound on Humanities Commons 1 year, 6 months ago
American musical theater occupies a unique space relative to other popular music genres. This is particularly true with regards to the ways aging performers are valued. Whereas aging or aged voices in popular music are often revered as “authentic,” aging musical theater performers face an industry largely uninvested in positive representations of aging. Hence, musical theater sustains a presumed connection between aging and deterioration, what Margaret Morganroth Gullette describes as the “master narrative of decline.” The Senior Follies movement is designed to counter this decline narrative by granting value and purpose to aging performers through a Ziegfeld-inspired musical variety show. For nearly thirty years, Senior Follies productions have appeared in cities across the country, including Palm Springs, California; Dallas, Texas; Anderson, South Carolina; and, in recent years, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. My proximity to the latter group is the impetus for this study. I use my experience as musical director of the Oklahoma Senior Follies to highlight the effects the movement has had on Oklahoma City audiences and performers. As I argue in this ethnography, the Senior Follies movement not only engages the “master narrative of decline” but also undoes conventions of musical theater that have coupled aging with disability or invisibility. I also consider the emergence of the Oklahoma Senior Follies in relation to structural changes in the state’s professional theater company—Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma—to make some larger observations about the musical theater industry’s relationship with aging populations.