“Fraudsters use the power of theater – pretending to be someone they are not – to scam seniors. SAGES fights fire with fire,” says Christine Hamacher, Executive Director of Senior Actors Guild and Education Services.
Hamacher and her team at SAGES invite seniors from across Tampa Bay to experience their newest production, “Phoney Baloney,” an original play that spotlights reality on both ends of a scam phone call. Thanks to grants from the RRF Foundation for Aging and the Pinellas Community Foundation Senior Citizens Services, DVDs of a live performance are free for use at 55+ communities in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties to help keep seniors from falling victim to scams.
“The topic of scams came to my attention through my work with seniors,” Hamacher says, “and I realized this was another taboo subject we needed to get people talking about more to protect them.”
Once SAGES’ latest topic came into focus, company playwright Linda Goldman got to work conducting interviews and research, discovering that scams perpetrated over the telephone were the most prevalent and target seniors more rapidly than ever.
Goldman, Hamacher and SAGES Board Member Kelly McGuire worked to shape the data, personal stories and tips on prevention into “Phoney Baloney.”
Crafting a play that educates as much as it entertains is not a once-off gimmick for SAGES. “Baloney” is just the latest in a string of “Plays with Purpose” going back to 2014.
“This is all Linda Goldman’s fault,” Hamacher said of the playwright. “Truly! She and her friends love theater, so she would plan outings for senior groups from her temple to see community theater shows around the area. But they were disappointed to see seniors on stage in only zany character roles and not as the lead actors sharing their own complex stories of overcoming challenges.”
Goldman took matters into her own hands, writing her first play, “Grandma Goes Off Her Rocker.” Hamacher took note, and saw an opportunity to fold her years of personal advocacy on the subject of fall prevention for seniors into a project with Goldman. SAGES first show, “Denying Gravity,” allowed seniors audiences to see themselves represented more dynamically on stage, while also supporting local Fire Rescue to reduce calls to 911 for falls by older adults.
“All of the stories told in our plays reflect truth from real life events,” says Hamacher.
SAGES’ newest play is no different. “Telephone scams have touched almost everyone these days, whether they realize it or not. Robocalls are a daily occurrence and many are the results of a large fraud network of scammers calling all over the country and stealing money from all ages. Several of the scams we discuss have been experienced by people we know, if not our own members of SAGES.”
Due to the pandemic, Hamacher and company couldn’t do live shows as planned last year so they had “Phoney Baloney” professionally recorded for release as part of their “Do-It-Yourself STOP Scams Kits.”
Fully funded through grants from the RRF Foundation and Pinellas Community Foundation Senior Citizen Services, free kits are now available to senior living communities all over Tampa Bay. The group invites independent living/retirement homes, assisted living facilities, senior apartments, and both 55+ condos and mobile home parks to request a kit that includes a DVD of “Phoney Baloney,” playbills, guidelines for viewing and audience feedback forms to engage the audience.