Seniors take to the stage for innovative production

You"re not adding years, you're adding quality to your life.

Seniors these days are discovering what Harvard MD Gene Cohen describes as the Creative Age.

To do that, the Okanagan Institute Express series at the Bohemian Café, presents Geriacting Out: St(age)ing and Talking Points on Thursday Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. Join as director Ruth Bieber and a group of dedicated geriactors take to the stage to share their learning adventures and engage our imaginations.

There is extensive and robust evidence that engagement in meaningful activities, such as participation in the arts, also contributes to a wide range of positive health outcomes including personal control, self-esteem, physical health, functional independence, cognitive function and lower mortality rates. Participation also reduces health inequalities, promotes independence and reduces reliance on health services.

Senior theatre is a form of drama designed specifically for older adults, where seniors are actively involved. Many theatre performers want to be on stage when they are older. A good number have never acted before, others have performed when they were young and want to do it again. Some have acted all their lives and they know the joy of performing. Senior theatre groups are booming, with more than 750 groups around the world. Participants are saying, “You may not feel well before a performance, but you’ll be high afterwards.”

The Society for Learning in Retirement, established in 1994, is a voluntary non-profit, tax-exempt, equal opportunity organization meeting the educational interests and needs of retired persons in the Central Okanagan. SLR is open to all 50+ retired and semi-retired persons who share a love of the camaraderie of learning regardless of their formal education. Peer teaching and learning are at the heart of SLR programs. Group leaders encourage students to actively participate in their own learning. While these study leaders will not always be experts, they are also learners, engaged in a joint learning enterprise.

Geriacting is something new for the SLR. The Society received a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors Program to start a drama class directed by professional director Ruth Bieber, with the assistance of Matt Brown from The Hub Arts Collective in Vernon. SLR president Vera Ito says, “We are delighted to have Ruth and Matt for this project. It is exciting to see some of our members challenging themselves to reach new heights of achievement in their senior years and to know that life is not over. They can still play a part in our community by presenting talking points about seniors to a greater audience.”

The idea of talking points is what the program is all about. Seniors have some very firm ideas about the ways of the world and there are various areas that are of concern to them in today’s society. The short vignettes that will be presented reflect a variety of topics and give voice and visibility to a population that collectively has a huge amount of life experience. These seniors hope that their vignettes will, in turn, generate discussion with the audience about seniors’ concerns. Their intent is to promote awareness, understanding and education regarding relevant issues of aging: ageism, isolation, dependency, elder abuse and more. The stories these seniors have to tell are not only rich with history, but also heartwarming and inspiring.

Senior Adeja Chrisara comments: “Exploring the depths of creativity through acting can strike fear in the most valiant soul; coming to it later in life takes great courage and commitment. These amazing seniors have stepped up to the challenge with heart and humour (not to mention phenomenal talent.) I’m sure they will touch and inspire all who see them.” Participating actress, Faye Stroo comments: “This class offers us the opportunity to play and to explore boundaries. Conquering stage fright is also an intense group experience that fosters strong team spirit. I am learning through acting me again, and asking myself, “How can I play my roles in real life to best effect? ” Perhaps this is a question we can all ask ourselves. These seniors have no previous acting experience and the process used is one of collective creation. Lines are not memorized, instead we use the process of rehearsed improvisation, which means that no two performances are exactly alike. This spontaneous process makes each performance quite exciting for all.

Geriacting Out: St(age)ing and Talking Points takes place at the Bohemian Cafe, 524 Bernard Ave., on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m.

This marks the 242nd event the Okanagan Institute has held since the Express series got underway in 2007. Express is presented in association with the Okanagan Media Alliance, Okanagan Regional Library and Okanagan College. Advance registration is required at www.okanaganinstitute.com

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