July 9 through 15 will mark the final performances of the Kut-Ups – a musical group of senior citizens in Rohnert Park that has provided an entertaining variety show for 45 years. The group started back in 1972 by Betty Ferra as an offshoot of the “Fun After 50” club. Given her background in comedy and vaudeville, she wanted to provide a fun activity for her elderly mother and her friends. What started in her garage with a group of older women playing kazoos and various kitchen instruments like washboards and pots and pans (hence their original name, The Kitchen Kut-Ups) has turned into an annual “razzle dazzle” show that incorporates dancing, singing, comedy and skits and includes a live band. Ferra herself directed the show until 2001, and performed until 2008. After her departure, Ariel Weymouth-Payne took over the role of Choreographer and Director.
“It’s been a real interesting experience working with these folks,” says Weymouth-Payne, who has been with the show for ten years. “Our average age now is probably 75, so they’ve gotten older. You had to be 50 to be a Kut-Up but many have stayed with the group for a while so as a group we’ve gotten older. One of our performers, Frandi Keeler, has been with the group since 1986!”
Ironically, many locals are not familiar with the show and in the past most audience members came from bus groups all around the state, including Sacramento, the South Bay, East Bay, and as far as Fresno. Apparently, the previous business manager reached out to many senior centers throughout Northern California and many of those groups came every year, up until five years ago when the current director decided to market to the local community. Weymouth-Payne estimates that about 50% of their audience still comes from bus tours, with the rest being local audience members.
Larry Broderick is the group’s musical director and has been with the show 44 years. Starting out as the groups’ piano accompanist, over time he developed a 15-piece band, and arranges the music himself, specifically for each number.
“Often music for these kinds of shows are canned,” says Broderick. “I arrange all the music, and write every note, for every piece, for every instrument.”
The show, a 501(c)3 non-profit, performed at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park for 26 years, and always centered on a theme. This year, their “Blast from the Past” theme is meant to reminisce about their long performance history. There are 35 performers total, including the band, ranging in age from 60 to 85. The family friendly variety show includes many spoofs, skits, and comedy about aging, and in the past the group often performed mini outreach shows at various senior centers and facilities for those seniors who could no longer travel. The performers and band start rehearsing in January for the summer performances.
According the Weymouth-Payne, when Larry Broderick announced he was retiring from the show, the board discussed shutting down production, citing increasing costs to produce the show, difficulties in finding new performers, and basically wanting to end the show on a high note, while still at their peak.
“It’s quite a commitment to do this show,” says Weymouth-Payne. “It’s time consuming for the dancers and we’ve had people start that quit a couple months later because they can’t commit that much time. Also, more people who have wanted to dance with us are still working. Since we rehearse during the day that’s been an issue. People are working longer than they used to so it’s been harder for us to find committed people.”
With the groups’ aging population, health issues have become a concern for many as well.
“We have some members rehearsing between chemotherapy treatments,” said Broderick.
Everyone involved in the show has enjoyed their years rehearsing and performing with the group, and even though the board and those involved feel that their 45th year is a good time for their grand finale, seeing the show end is still bittersweet.
For tickets and more information, visit www.spreckelsonline.com.