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Drama workshop has York seniors laughing
Three actors sat at the front of the stage. They had a shortage of words: one woman was allowed to say only three words at a time, another woman was limited to two and the man in the middle could say only one.
They were pretending to be at a zoo.
"Tigers, bears," one woman said.
"You think so?" said the other.
The man in the middle uttered things that often seemed random. Once, he said nothing at all, just made as if he was about to get out of his chair and then sat back down.
Before long, a dynamic developed between the three.
"Hospital, mental ward?" one woman said eventually to the other, gesturing at the man.
The workshop: The performance, at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre, was the culmination of a six-week series of dramatic workshops for seniors called StAGEs.
Sixteen people, ages 57 to 94, participated in the workshop, which was led by freelance theater artists Christina Myers and Luke MacCloskey at DreamWrights. The idea for the workshop came from the National Council on Creative Aging, and the organization StARTSomething and DreamWrights coordinated to produce it.
Recollections: The performance began and ended with the singing of a traditional English round. The first time, just those onstage sang, and at the end the audience joined in.
After the first round, the performers went through a rehearsed scene that director Myers said they had created through a process of visualization. Together they recited, "These hands have worked ..."
Then, each performer ended the sentence, reminiscing about their experiences.
"These hands took care of my father from 1984 to 1998, 14 years," one woman said.
"These hands made bamboo trees with a brush and black ink," said another.
Improv: Then the show took a turn for the random.
Improvisation, which was a large part of the workshop, is a way to build scenes and relationships, Myers said.
In one exercise, Myers conducted an "emotional symphony," with participants feigning anger, joy or disgust, performing solos and harmonizing with each other.
In another, performers boarded and departed from an imaginary subway car.
In one scenario, three people held a peculiar conversation in which, starting with "A," each said a sentence that started with the next letter in the alphabet.
"Way to go" was followed by "Yes, ma'am" and "Zoos are fun, too."
In another exercise, performers pretended to be radio stations. They took turns, Myers changing the station every few seconds. The weather conditions announced on one station grew increasingly disastrous, a man sang a full-throated "Ave Maria" and a woman sang pieces of many different country songs while another offered hymns.
Pacing fiercely, the man on the end sang an ear-blasting "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
An exercise that included the audience ended the improv portion of the performance.
The pilot: Organizers said they hope that this StAGEs workshop will be the first of many.
Each participant has given feedback as to what they'd like to focus on, and future workshops might home in on specific interests, Myers said. She said she hopes to invite more people into the workshops and coordinate with other organizations, such as Crispus Attucks.
Activities like this help improve the health of older people, she said.
"Being involved artistically increases plasticity in the brain," Myers said. Being exposed to new ideas and making friends also helps seniors' neurological health, she said.
Laughter: "For me, it was the laughter," said Cat Palmisano, 64. "Even through physical pain I laughed."
Palmisano said she enjoyed meeting people from various backgrounds.
"I came in with some concerns," she said. Palmisano, who is Cuban and Italian, said that when she first started attending the workshop, she was alarmed to be one of the few people of color there and thought perhaps there hadn't been enough outreach to communities of color.
But, she said, she learned that the organizers did make an effort to have a diverse group and be inclusive of all cultures.
She came to think that it was a two-way street — people's preconceived ideas about what to expect from such a thing as a drama workshop might have kept them from feeling like they would be accepted there.
"When it comes to this type of art," she said, "there are no color barriers ... Once you come here, you're embraced from the top through the bottom."
— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch. com.