CONNECTICUT VALLEY SPECTATOR
Reading Their Own Memories: Seniors work with theater artist
by Katina Caraganis
Published July 2, 2009
LEBANON – Residents at the Upper Valley Senior Center got a chance to act out their memories last week in a dramatic reading before an audience at the center.
It marked the culmination of a five-week series at the center called “Mindful Things: Exploring Memory through Science and Art,” a series that began in May.
For the last five weeks, senior citizens from the region have been working with theater artist Leah Carey to craft a series of writings created from their memories and experiences through the years.
Carey, who has extensive experience in developing community theater explained that “every life is full of stories and drama. There was as time when elders told those stories around a campfire, providing both glue for the community and life lessons for the younger generations.”
Seniors read not only passages they’d written but those written by other seniors who were unable to attend the dramatic reading.
Memories ranged from lost friends and loved ones to dramatic changes in lifestyle after children had left the nest.
Carey facilitated the event and was part of the dramatic reading as an extra voice to fill in for those not present. She said approximately 12 seniors took part in the program, but only half were able to attend.
“Each week, I would get together with the group and give them some writing prompts so they weren’t starting at a blank page, which can be intimating,” she said. “They had various concepts to write about, including memories about their childhood, having a new beginning in life, things like that.”
Carey said the group wrote two pieces each session, one five minutes in length, and another for 20 minutes.
“I took everything they had written over the five weeks and compiled and edited it and put it into a script,” she explained.
Each individual took turns reading aloud Friday afternoon, drawing smiles and laughter from loved ones in attendance.
As a website builder by day, Carey started doing workshops similar to “Mindful Things” five years ago for a group of women with breast cancer.
“The first group I did was in 2005 with breast cancer survivors in Hanover called Bosom Buddies. My professional training is in the theater as a professional stage manager, which I did for 10 years,” she noted. “Since I’ve been back here, I’ve been really interested in getting people to tell their own stories, instead of doing ‘Annie’ or ‘The Music Man’ again. This is more interesting.”
Carey said that often times people have skewed images of what memories should be, and this series helped seniors reflect on their roots and realize their memories are what truly makes them as a person. “I think it’s a great thing for seniors because it gets them looking back at their lives and [seeing] how interesting and important their lives are. I think there is a real disconnect these days,” she said, noting that people view television and think that’s what entertainment is supposed to be.
“People have perfect hair and makeup and know what to say. This shows us our lives are more interesting, we just don’t have a scriptwriter. This is more valuable,” she emphasized.
She said all too often, people look in the wrong place for wisdom and entertainment, like television or video games, when instead they should look to elders for advice and guidance.
“To give seniors the chance to look back on their lives and appreciate their experiences is great, and for those of us that are younger, it’s great to listen to their experiences and gain a new appreciation for what they have been through,” she said.
She added, “If I were to live in a perfect world, the elders would be the ones who own the wisdom. We should be looking to them to solve the problems of the world. I would like to create a situation where we are listening to our elders to fix problems.”
The series was made possible through support from Endowment for Health, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and ServiceLink.