What is your primary artistic medium?
Theatre / Improvisation / Playwriting / Memoir Writing
How did you get started as a teaching artist?
After years of working professionally as an actor and stage director, I wanted to expand my learning so I returned to university to complete my B.A. Degree. I had already earned my drama credits from previous college years, and was seeking a related field of study. I discovered educational theatre. I always had the desire to teach through my craft so this was a perfect avenue to explore.
How does teaching inform your own artistic process?
Teaching has given me new insights to explore my creative process. Sharing my knowledge has increased my powers of observation and awareness. My capabilities as an actor, writer, and director have been honed after seeing my teaching mirrored back by my students.
What led you to working in Creative Aging?
I wrote and performed a one-man play entitled Blood Type: RAGU. The show recounts my life experiences growing up as a first-generation child of immigrant Italian parents, and how that child struggles to negotiate two cultures. The show ran Off-Broadway and continues to tour. I was then invited to perform the piece at a Senior Living Center. As a result, I was recommended to facilitate a memoir writing workshop stewarding others to write their own stories. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Lifetime Arts Teaching Artist Roster. Since then I have conducted numerous acting and writing programs with mature populations in libraries and senior living centers.
Why do you think working with older adults is important?
Working with older adults through arts programs gives meaning to their lives. It validates their life experiences and provides an avenue for creative expression.
What has been the biggest surprise in working with older adult learners?
The biggest surprise has been observing their willingness to share and participate once a process of trust is built. I am constantly amazed as they witness hidden talents they never realized they possessed.
What skills are most important when working with older adults?
The skills that are most important is the ability to listen and empower. There are times when emotions may come to surface from the work that is being produced. When, or if, that happens it is vital to witness and create a container for validation. While it can be therapeutic, it is important to not make it therapy.
What have been your biggest challenges? How do you respond?
My biggest challenges are assessing everyone’s physical and emotional needs while working with them. For example, if someone’s motor skills are challenged with writing, I might use my iPhone and have them dictate their thoughts. Another person may not feel safe to share their work, so I will find ways to build their confidence to take a risk. It can be challenging but also fascinating to explore the individual needs of each participant.
What advice would you give someone that wants to do this work?
Be an effective communicator teaching through your art form. Focus on the process, not the result. Have fun, and enjoy the ride!
Tell us a short story from one of your classes that demonstrates the benefits of creative aging for participants.
I was teaching memoir writing workshop at a senior living center. There was one male participant who enjoyed listening to everyone else’s story, but never shared his own. Every time I asked him if he had something to share he would say, “I have something, but I’m not going to share it.” I could see he wanted to, but needed permission to do so. I then put my iPhone down to record him and told him to forget about writing and just speak it. He opened up and shared a story that left not a dry eye in the room. He finally set himself free from all the years of holding on to it. That is just one of the benefits that arts programming gives to mature populations.
What are your current and upcoming projects of both your own work and teaching assignments?
I am presently featured in two short films Figs for Italo and Brooklyn in July. In addition to touring my one-man show Blood Type: RAGU throughout the US, I am writing a new solo play about my experiences working with adult seniors and high school seniors, and how the two populations helped me to gain a deeper understanding of myself. Along with arts programs I conduct in schools and institutions, I am the resident stage director for the award-winning performing arts program at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey.
Thank you Frank for your wonderful work with Lifetime Arts.
To contact Frank check out his Teaching Artist Profile on Lifetime Arts’ Roster.
Check back each month where we will feature a new Teaching Artist who has excelled in their work with the Creative Aging process.