The Geritol Frolics, which has entertained audiences for more than three decades, handed in its costumes and will no longer be performing on stage.
The Frolics, a nonprofit musical theater production company for senior citizens, performed its last production in October 2018, and officially dissolved its existence Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. It was an emotional decision, but after careful thought and discussions, the Geritol Frolics Board of Directors voted to dissolve the organization.
Ed and Yvonne Yunker, who ran the Frolics for the past 15 years, said one of the main reasons they had to put an end to the organization was that several key players in the show could no longer be involved.
The Geritol Frolics was founded in the late ‘80s. Organizers presented an annual show with a different theme each October. Show themes have spun around music from around the world to different TV shows and movies. The show was performed several times in a two-week period, offering matinee and night performances at the Franklin Arts Center’s auditorium in Brainerd. The musical show consisted of a cast of senior citizens ages 55 and up.
The Yunkers, who wrote the show scripts and designed the costumes with assistance, said they’ve had up to 40 people involved in the Frolics’ cast, but typically have about 25-30 people. In the three or four years prior to the last show, the number of people involved decreased. Ed Yunker said at the end of 2017, the organization had 12 people left interested in the show, however only one was an alto and none were tenors. The Geritol Frolics chorus needs to have all four voice ranges -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
“We had to take a hard look at it,” Ed Yunker said of dissolving the Frolics, as there just was not enough people involved to keep it going. “We had a really good run in the 15 years we had the show and we think it’s time to put the show to a rest and our board of directors agreed with that.”
The Yunkers were able to talk enough people into doing one more show in 2018 and then spent 2019 dealing with the inventory and closing the books on the nonprofit organization.
“It was a bittersweet decision,” said Ed Yunker of the Geritol Frolics coming to an end. “Over the years, we’ve had many people come to us and tell us what a wonderful show it was. ... We knew what we had, I don’t know though if we fully appreciated how really good the show was until it was all over. People came to see the Geritol Frolics from all over.”
The Yunkers said the best thing about being a part of the theater production was the people and they enjoyed performing. The Yunkers joined the Frolics as performers many years prior to taking the organization over. In fact, the married couple met each other through the Frolics. Ed Yunker said when he joined he wasn’t even old enough to be a part of it, but he was given the opportunity to do the tech work behind the scenes.
“It really was enjoyable,” Yvonne Yunker said. “I enjoy performing and being able to be creative and come up with new ideas and then actually see it all happen on stage was an amazing experience.”
The Geritol Frolics was started in 1987 by Bob Dryden, the theatre director at what was then known as Brainerd Community College, now Central Lakes College. Dryden retired from CLC in 1995-96. Dryden wanted to start a theater production for senior citizens ages 55 and up and he named it the Geritol Frolics. Dryden did his research when he started the Frolics, which sparked his interest when he did a play titled “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” that cast senior members. He went on a sabbatical to find an art program with senior citizens to help him create a program at CLC. He found one in Canada and then added his own touch to the production by adding comedy.
Dryden received a grant to create a concept involving senior theater and he also wrote a book about it. Due to medical reasons, Dryden retired from CLC and had to give up directing theater productions. The late and former CLC theater director Dennis Lamberson then took over. When the college decided not to run the program anymore, the Yunkers took it over in 2001. The Yunkers leased the auditorium at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd for the Frolics. They began writing the show and designing costumes.
Ed Yunker said when the college decided not to do the Frolics anymore, he and Yvonne began talking about how to keep the senior citizen show going. It was at that time that the Brainerd School District decided not to use the Franklin building anymore and it became an arts center, perfect for the Frolics.
In this past year, the Yunkers donated more than $170,000 in costumes and equipment to several charities in the Brainerd lakes area, such as Stage North Theatre Company, the Legacy Chorale, the Mustard Seed in Deerwood and the hospital auxiliaries. The Yunkers also sold about $70,000 in items and donated the proceeds to The Center in Brainerd, The Legacy Chorale, the Heartland Symphony Orchestra, Brainerd School Foundation, the 194th Tank Battalion in Brainerd, All Veterans Memorial in Brainerd, Breath of Life, Central Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and Brainerd Salvation Army.
“It was heartwarming,” Yvonne Yunker said of the response they received from the charities to which they donated. “We received so much praise from people who went and enjoyed the shows and said they were sad the shows would not go on. It was a tough trip, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
“We had 15 really good years and we affected a lot of lives,” Ed Yunker said. “We’ve had well over 200 people involved in our shows over the years.”
Without Geritol Frolics, the future for the Yunkers will not be as it was in the past. The Yunkers said for the past 15 years the Geritol Frolics would be on their minds. When they would be on road trips, they would be thinking of ideas for the next show theme.
“We were always thinking of new ideas for the show,” Yvonne Yunker said. “We put on a lot of miles and came up with a lot of ideas. ... Now I will have more time to get caught up on stuff at home and do some traveling.”
Ed Yunker added, “And to act like old folks.”
Ed Yunker said he will continue to volunteer at the Brainerd senior center and sing at Zion Lutheran Church in Brainerd.
JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.