Woman seeking showbiz talent of a certain age for vaudeville revival

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



BARBERTON — You’re only as old as you act.

Harriet Walker, 69, has an itch to prove it. So she’s hanging a shingle outside the Barberton Grange.

Wanted: Showbiz talent of a certain age.

“I’m looking for people who can juggle, who can yodel, who can dance, who can do ventriloquism,” she said. “Can you play Dixieland jazz or bluegrass? Can you play the banjo?”

If you said yes to any of these — or you’ve got some other stage-worthy skill that generates smiles — and you’re “50 and better,” you’re what Walker’s after. Talent of nearly any sort is welcome. Walker emphasized to this reporter that a dog jumping through a hoop would be great.

“I am looking for anyone who has talent that I can put together in a 90-minute show,” she said.

She wants to demonstrate that there’s as much seasoned talent in Clark County as there is in Portland, home of the Northwest Senior Theater, an auditions-only company that stages two Broadway-style shows per year. Walker has been a member of NST for years — and wants to imitate it up here.

“I’m trying to start an organization patterned after NST — up and running, working well, profitable financially,” she said.

And, contributing something to the health and happiness of seniors itching to perform, as well as those who just want to applaud, she said.

“There are so many seniors out there that have talents that are not being utilized,” she added. “I want to get them off their couches and away from the television set and putting on our own show. Senior theater is in my blood.”

Organization is too. Walker retired from a career as convention services director for the Seattle Sheraton and the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif. After she signed off as a behind-the-scenes planner, she said, she got back into her childhood love: singing songs, telling stories and showing off in general.

“A day that doesn’t begin with a song is not starting off right,” she said of her life now. Walker has traveled with the Seattle branch of Sweet Adelines, a competitive harmony group with chapters all over the nation, and said she’s never had a better time than when putting on a show with “125 of my best friends.”

Now, Walker is looking to recruit as many new best friends as possible — starting off with Darylene Dodge, 75; Chuck Rudkin, 71; and Nancy Rickard, 77, “and proud of every year,” she announced.

Dodge is a Hawaiian- and Polynesian-style dancer who used to own a dance studio and teach professionally. Rudkin is a guitarist and singer who got back into country music, a youthful passion, after surgery laid him up last year. And Rickard is a dedicated singer who makes the rounds of senior citizen homes and facilities crooning oldies and country-western tunes along with backing tapes.

“I love to perform,” Rickard said. “I love to watch their eyes and give them hugs. I love to see the people you can’t really see” when stage lights are in your eyes, she said.

And she loves shaking their hands, patting shoulders and exchanging greetings afterwards, Rickard said. The nursing home residents she plays to “don’t get touched often enough. They need people like us.”

That’s what Walker hopes to do with Va Va Voom, the Vancouver and Vicinity Vaudeville Revue: travel to senior citizen homes and facilities and touch folks hungry for old-fashioned entertainment and basic human contact. But first, she aims to inaugurate the group with a holiday show at the Barberton Grange.

Va Va Voom has begun meeting at the Grange every Wednesday from 10 a.m.to 1 p.m. Walker is eager to hear from performers and will welcome walk-ins too, she said.

“We just want to see what we’ve got and put together an interesting show,” she said.

Contact her at 360-546-5855 or at harrietcleo@yahoo.com. The Barberton Grange is at 9400 N.E. 72nd Ave.

Have talent?

• Contact Harriet Walker at 360-546-5855 or at harrietcleo@yahoo.com.

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