What is your primary artistic medium?
Self generated performance. I also act in other people’s projects on stage and screen.
How did you get started as a teaching artist?
I attended New York’s High School of Performing Arts in the 1980’s, and I was influenced heavily by a great director and teacher who studied with Grotowski, Lee Strasberg, Peter Brook, Harold Clurman and others. My work with him led me to create a major at Wesleyan University, called Education Through Theater. When I graduated, besides acting professionally on stage and screen, I began working for a variety of organizations using theater to educate and empower people. Some of the early organizations were Globalkids, Healing Arts Initiative (then called Hospital Audiences, Inc.), The Floating Hospital, Theater for a New Audience, Soundance and Dixon Place.
How does teaching inform your own artistic process?
The teaching I do often elicits emotionally resonant stories from the participants which are frequently moving and hilarious. They reveal many things about the participants, including wisdom and the complexity of a life lived – as well as the extraordinary connection we all have no matter our age, background or education.
Why do you think working with older adults is important?
We all don’t just like, but need, to be listened to. It is not just a gift to the one being heard, but also to the listener. One of the things that hurts me the most is when I think of a people who are not valued or ignored. Older adults obviously have had more experience on this planet than younger, and wherever they are in their current state they have something very precious to offer all of us in the form of story.
What led you to working in Creative Aging?
One of my first jobs in Creative Aging was at a senior center, creating a performance piece with participants who shared a variety of moments connected by movement, music and poetry. It was called, “Moment to Moment.”
What has been the biggest surprise in working with older adult learners?
I am often surprised at how I can learn and be moved by hearing stories from this population. Recently we were sharing tales that had to do with what place music has in our lives. A gentleman in his 90’s walked in with a walker and one eye missing. The first surprise came when he opened his mouth. His warmth, charm and sense of humor engulfed the room. When people are given a space to feel as if their voice matters, magic often comes forth in the form of story. Older learners have that much more to teach and relate. It is an honor help facilitate their doing so.
What skills are most important when working with older adults?
Patience, a sense of humor, joy, respect, and fun.
What advice would you give someone that wants to do this work?
Work with folks on something that you yourself are excited and enthusiastic about, that can be contagious.
What have been your biggest challenges? How do you respond?
It is challenging when any participant shows disrespect for others, or behaves in a way that can hurt the connection between the participants. I respond with patience and sometimes speaking privately to a person to remind them that it is of utmost importance that we all help create a safe space.
Tell us a short story from one of your classes that demonstrates the benefits of Creative Aging for participants.
I was creating a show of storytelling with a group of older adults. There was a woman who clearly wanted to participate but was also quite shy. We did an exercise asking participants to share how they played as a child. She had grown up on a farm in the south and had an uncle who drank a lot. He had left an empty whisky bottle on the ground. She found it, and since she did not have a doll, that bottle became for her, a doll she brought everywhere… Gave it a girl’s name and loved it very much. My response to her story, as well as the group’s, seemed to have an impact on this woman’s confidence in telling more stories from her life… all of which were quite precious.
What are your current and upcoming projects of both your own work and teaching assignments?
I will be doing my show Lucky Penny at Intersections International on Friday April 21st at 7pm and then a benefit for Penguin Rep on Sat April 22nd at 7:30 in Stony Point in Rockland County and will be performed at a JCC in Houston Texas in Feb of 2018.
I also am in the midst of doing a storytelling workshop series with older adults at the Fort Hamilton branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. We will end with a public sharing at 11am on April 27th.
And, I am currently teaching acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory and at HB studio as well as working with some teens at Bronx Academy of Letters.
Thank you David for your wonderful work with Lifetime Arts.
Check back each month where we will feature a new Teaching Artist who has excelled in their work with the Creative Aging process.