The first project (and certainly one of the most popular) is Reminiscence Theatre. Reminiscence Theatre consists of professional actors coming in to interview your seniors and then return in two weeks to perform their stories within theatrical conventions. This work has been documented as: “serving many adaptive functions such as maintaining self-esteem, reinforcing a sense of personal and collective identity, resolving grief, and helping to assuage the anxiety of physical and mental decline. Reminiscence also stimulates memory function and socialization within institutional settings. (National Center for Creative Aging’s Living History Theater Program, Butler 9)
The seniors who participate in this work are often moved by the idea that their stories, their lives are interesting enough to create powerful theatre. But the work that we have done showed, despite the interviewees’ insistence that their stories were uninspiring, that every subject included stories of overcoming obstacles and facing challenges—the fundamental groundwork of good theatre. And when the seniors watched the stories, there is an ongoing communication between them and the actors.
“As I stood and recited the story about everyone having a job in church and mine being to sing, I heard a voice from the front clearly, “That’s my story!” When I continued the next line about although my job was to sing, I couldn’t sing; I next heard, “That’s true, I still can’t sing!” Lots of laughter and agreement from the group ensued and I wanted to chuckle as well. It was then I thought, okay, maybe we got this part right. The whole show had
moments like that, when the audience verbally responded to the show, including a poignant one when during the symbolic folding and presentation of the flag to the mother of the fallen soldier; a gentleman in the back called out, “I hope you never have to actually do that.” (Actor, Reminiscence Theatre Summer 2014)
Time/Resources: 4 Actors 2 Weeks Commitment
1 Facilitator 1 – 2 Hours of interviewing
35 – 40 Hours of Play Creation and Rehearsal
Total Cost: $2500
CREATE YOUR OWN THEATRE
The second project we can offer is an active, engaged theatrical workshop, in which the seniors themselves create theatre from their own stories. We know that Reminiscence Theatre has positive impact on the seniors’ lives and communities. However, when they themselves begin to create, the benefits increase. As Dr. Butler from the Creative Aging Institute points out, “I believe that programs that bring people together and enrich each other’s lives through the creative arts are a key to better care . . . We are discovering that the arts stimulate mental association, sociability, and physical healing” (23). And the wealth of older actors creating their own theatre around the world is exploding.
“However, when offered the opportunity to improvise and put in a position of helping the younger performers with authenticity and realism, the older participants enjoyed introducing their wealth of experience into the live art form.” (Schweitzer 185)
With this project, one or two facilitators would work with the seniors, teaching them basic theatre skills and storytelling from their own lives and interest to create theatrical scenes and moments. If the participants desire, the scenes can be performed for the general community or family and friends. Participation in this work has additional benefits including physical and mental facility development.
Time/Resources: 1 or 2 Facilitators 8-10 Sessions over 3 – 4 weeks
Cost: 1 Facilitator $2000
2 Facilitators $4000
The last project we are currently offering is an opportunity to bring two generations of participants together to create theatre. Bringing the seniors together with young participants (teens) is a unique and moving one. The work has been done around the world with great success. This marriage of storytelling and performance has been described as “the great lubricant of multigenerational collaboration” (Strimling, 24). The founder of Roots&Branches, New York’s intergenerational theatre project, goes on to say that “once they [seniors and young] actually get together, relationships develop quickly, as if responding to a deep hunger. And within this hunger lie opportunities to teach and learn; to have life stories preserved, remembered, and passed on; to ease loneliness and isolation. All of these and more make these projects work more often than not” (24–25).
Strength out of Shadows will work to find a partner school or community center with young participants eager to come to your center and work with you. The two groups will interview each other and create improvisation and theatre together, bridging a gap of generations and misunderstandings through theatre. We have found through this work, there is clear, demonstrable, attitudinal shifts by both groups about the other generation.
There are both combined sessions and separate group sessions as part of this project. The total time commitment for the initial project is two months. Experience has taught us that once these two communities connect, this is a lasting connection and further opportunities are desired by both groups.
“I’ve learned a lot from the older generation, I see them in a new light” (Teenage Participant, 18 Mar. 2015), “The teenagers were outgoing, friendly and bright,” and “I was surprised that in many ways the teenagers seemed older and more serious about life than I am” (Senior Participant, 17 Mar. 2015). “Seniors and young people, getting together, is a good learning experience for each group,” “There’s a lot of acceptance that comes into doing this project…on both parts,” and “I can create a great connection with anyone!” (Intergenerational Participants, 17–18 Mar. 2015).
Time/Resources: 2 Facilitators 8 weeks/12 – 15 sessions
At least 4 joint sessions
with both communities