Since 2014, resident Martha Westberg has written and/or directed 19 stage productions for BTV Play Readers Theater, a group of volunteer Village thespians who perform, write and direct stage plays on campus.
Westberg’s plays include The Pie Ladies Make Bail in 2014, 2015’s Strange Dilemma, Cabaret: A Talent Show with a cast of 21 residents in 2016, Jailhouse Blues in 2019, Hospital Daze in 2021, among others.
She has teamed up with fellow residents like Pat Parker, who co-wrote Another Ordinary Day in 2021, and the late Lottie Nast, who along with Westberg wrote The Butterfield Bakers Solve a Mystery in 2014 and The BTV Detectives Get a Clue in 2015.
With a love for spoofs and parodies of everyday life, Westberg’s plays are performed by the Play Readers Theatre cast for Village residents in the BTV Performance Hall.
“This playwriting is really an old-age discovery for me,” Westberg, 94, said. “It started when Lottie [Nast] wrote a little play and asked me to direct it after I had done the sequel to Pie Ladies. She said, ‘Change it however you want.’ Before you knew it, she and I were co-writing plays and I was directing them. I would have never written a script without Lottie.”
Play Readers Theatre is comprised of residents and staff who are the cast and crew for stage plays written, directed and/or conceived by Village residents.
Michael Burks, assistant director of BTV Programs and Events, develops props and sound effects for the play readers’ productions and helps Westberg stage direct. Last year, he wrote and directed Hospital Daze: The After$hock, a sequel to Westberg’s Hospital Daze.
Burks said Play Readers Theatre goes beyond actors sitting on stools reading scripts. With stage props, costumery and timed set changes, Butterfield’s version is more like “play readers on steroids.”
“Play Readers Theatre is an opportunity for residents who have — or have not — been involved in theatre to express themselves and have fun,” Burks said. “There is no high pressure, no scripts to memorize. You’re acting on the stage, but you’re also holding and reading from your script.”
Residents Mary Smith and Eunice Bullis started the first “play readers” group at BTV in 1989. In 2013, Director of Programs and Events Riki Stamps revived the tradition with BTV Play Readers Theatre Presents: The Pie Ladies.
Westberg took the reins in 2014. In addition to playwriting, she casts roles, holds rehearsals and stage directs. “Our cast and crew are all volunteers, and I love each one of them,” Westberg said. “They are the ones who bring my words to life, and I couldn’t do this without them.”
Burks said Westberg’s sharp wit, writing talent and stage timing have been pure magic for BTV. “The laughter and joy these plays bring residents is just incredible,” Burks said. “The cast is one big happy family – and it’s more than just neighbors. They’re working together to accomplish the same goal of entertaining.”