March 11, 2019
Senior Follies, Anderson University and Annette Martin have been a team for 30 years.
While Martin, the long-time director of the Senior Follies, is retiring, the show will go on.
It was 31 years ago that Mark Hopkins, then president of Anderson College, found inspiration in a senior citizens variety show in Brainerd, Minnesota, called Geritol Frolics. He tasked Dr. David Larson, now dean of the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University, with creating something similar. A committee wrote a musical called “Meet Me at the Klondike Café” and recruited volunteer performers from senior choirs, barbershop quartets and even a clogging group. They hired Martin to direct the music.
For its second year, the show evolved to a variety show format, and eventually the name changed from Senior Swing to Senior Follies and the age minimum lowered from 65 to 55. Seventy-five performers are chosen during tryouts each fall for the March shows. Tickets sell for $15 and $20.
The Senior Follies has performed three times at U.S. Army bases, on cruise ships, at Disney World and Dollywood and throughout the community. Money from ticket sales is funneled back into Henderson Auditorium, which now boasts new sound and lighting systems.
“It’s a win-win for the performing arts,” Dr. Larson said.
Hiring Martin was key to the evolution of Senior Follies, Dr. Larson said.
“The most important and successful decision I made was to reach out to her,” he said. “She has been the key player from the beginning. By the fourth or fifth year, Annette was running the show…To me the real beauty is that it allows seniors to do things they never thought they could do.”
A good example is Charlie Hayes, an Anderson graduate now retired from a career as a school principal.
“When I auditioned, I told Annette I couldn’t dance and didn’t want to sing solo,” Hayes said. “The first year, she had me doing it all.”
Chuck Cape echoes many in calling Martin the heart and soul of Senior Follies. “She’s the nucleus, the spoke,” he said.
Mary Busey, who completed clown college, is a master comedian and storyteller who got involved after retiring to Anderson 25 years ago. At age 87, she decided to step down along with Martin. But she takes with her many wonderful friendships.
While Martin modestly refers to herself as “just the piano player,” she recognizes that Senior Follies has played an important role in her life.
“I am paid to direct the show, but my job goes far beyond directing,” she said. “For me, it’s more of a ministry. The real joy for the performers comes from the relationships they have with each other onstage. Many have lost a spouse or moved and don’t know people. Senior Follies becomes their new family.”
Martin, who has a bachelor’s degree in piano pedagogy from Indiana University, started teaching piano at age 12 and performing at 16. Other than the two years she spent as a flight attendant, she has worked as an accompanist for singers and in the theater, wrote and produced children’s musicals and played the organ, piano and harpsichord at church. Once she got involved with Senior Follies, she remained so committed that she commuted to Anderson during the 18 years she lived in Charleston.
Senior Follies’ impact—under Martin’s leadership—was great, Dr. Larson said.
“It’s a great community outreach,” he said. “People from all over the region know about AU as the home of the Senior Follies. There’s nothing like it that’s out there.”