July 24--When I heard that the upcoming Fringe Festival in the Twin Cities included a one-woman performance by an 86-year-old actress, I called Maggie Shryer to ask her about it.
"Do you have to use my picture?" she asked. "People might think it's a play about an ax murderer."
But when Shryer showed up for an interview, she wore stylish shoes and sunglasses and had more of the look of a gracefully aging actress than a murderer. She looked at least 15 years younger than her age, and had a spirit to match.
"The hardest decision you make every day, the most dangerous, is to get up in the morning," Shryer said. "Because you don't know what the day has to give you."
A former Minneapolis North High School teacher, Shryer has acted for many years, mostly at Theatre in the Round.
But she hasn't been on the stage in years and had never written a play, until a conversation with friends about the wives of great men got her intrigued by the life of Katharina von Bora, spouse of Martin Luther.
She read all she could about the couple, both in English and German, which Shryer taught. Then, instead of tucking the knowledge away and getting on with job of being a senior citizen, she wrote a play and will put herself in front of an audience starting Aug. 1 at the Minneapolis Theater Garage.
Shryer's daughter, Jennifer Kramer, submitted the play to the Fringe, and it was picked in a lottery.
Shryer has long been interested in the women behind famous men, and Von Bora, dubbed the "run-away nun" was no exception.
Von Bora, as it turned out, was "the practical one" who made sure the household ran when Martin Luther housed everybody from dignitaries to refugees.
Shryer was a widow for five years more than 40 years ago (she has been married a second time to David Shryer for 43 years), so she chose to set the play after Martin Luther died, a time when people are hurting and vulnerable.
"It's a little different than a lot of Fringe plays," Shryer said. "There aren't a lot of laughs."
Shryer belongs to a writing group, and sought feedback from the group.
"There are some things you don't know if you can do until you do them and find out," Shryer said. "I guess I'll find out if I can write a play."
Shryer isn't the only one in her family drawn to the arts. Daughter Jennifer makes movies, and son Steve Kramer was frontman for the '80s band, the Wallets. Steve died in January.
Last year, Shryer starred in her daughter's short film, "Looking Past You," which will run on Minnesota Public Television this fall.
The movie is about an 85-year-old woman who is tired of being treated like she is invisible and decides to use age discrimination to her advantage by starting a crime spree.
Shryer, on the other hand, fights back against those who would look past her by being relevant. She's currently working on a mystery novel.
"I told my kids, who were in their fifties: 'You will have a whole second career in front of you.'
"You are never too old," Shryer said. "I'm a great believer in the positive. Every day is a whole new day, and anything is possible."
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