Villagers in the News

Breaking a Leg With Neil Cowan
It was a hot, August afternoon when Neil and I chatted on the Lodge patio, taking advantage of the shade that one of the many umbrellas provided. Among the many topics we discussed was the recent play entitled Elvis People, which Neil directed.
The cast was comprised of 20 energized seniors. Neil’s job was to bring the production to fruition by helping them become the characters in the play. They began with self-introductions, which helped troupe members get to know one another and was especially useful for new people who hadn’t previously worked with the Guild. Neil was impressed with the level and experience of the volunteers, some of whom had taught theater and had acted in various area community theaters. Next, work on each scene began in earnest with table readings and an in-depth discussion of themes and characters. Over the six-week rehearsal period, the players developed a bond and trust for each other and became a supportive team.
Neil knows that acting can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to become deeply involved with others in a meaningful activity. Neil has worked with many beginner and seasoned actors and has coached them through their jitters about memorization and performance, two aspects of theater work which are of common concern. Of course, every director wants a successful show, but Neil rarely “cracks the whip.” Acknowledging and supporting the efforts and progress of each individual is the way he leads, and above all, Neil wants the actors to have a fulfilling and rich experience.
Ultimately, the actor’s goal is to ‘inhabit’ the character he or she is portraying, so casting is very important. Neil gets to know volunteers’ temperaments and tries to match up actors’ personalities with characters that will enable them to succeed. Ideally, his goal is to include everyone who auditions, despite their age. In Elvis People, one of the actors was 98 and another was 94, and both memorized lines and performed admirably.
Neil started directing plays at Heritage Village in 2017. His first production was Twelve Angry Jurors, which he staged as a theater-in-the-round performance. At his second home in Sarasota, FL, Neil founded a theater company seven years ago called the Acorn Players. He has often directed a play for the first time in his Florida community, and then brought it to the Theater Guild. This gives him the opportunity to refine and enhance his work for the second production. He usually directs three productions a year.
Neil’s varied career included writing print ads and TV commercials for a large Chicago ad agency. His claim to fame was writing the live Kellogg’s cereal commercials on Captain Kangaroo. Neil also spent four years as a professional marionette puppeteer touring elementary schools in Illinois and Wisconsin. He then made his own Punch & Judy puppets, performing at Renaissance fairs, malls and birthday parties. Although his earning power as a puppeteer was limited, he looks back fondly on those days. But Neil’s primary career was teaching high school English and dramatics in the New Britain, CT, school system. During those years, he also acted in community theater.
Neil also has a couple of hobbies. He’s an enthusiastic perennial gardener and he and his wife Judy love to dance. They’ll be leading a free interactive dance workshop here in the Village, called Let’s Dance! Check out the Bulletin for their September 22 event.
Neil likes living in Heritage Village because of the community spirit, energy and volunteerism that many residents so eagerly display. When all is said and done, his mission is to bring people together to experience joy, self-expression and well-being. He invites people to jump in and participate in whatever sparks their interests. For those who are hesitant, Neil would say, “What are you waiting for?”