Disabled Youth Play With Seniors

They Combine To Write, Star In Production

September 23, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Eleven-year-old Paul Weinstein said he could play the drums as "softas a mouse creeping on wood and as loud as thunder," though he knew he was exaggerating.

Jaimie Stiegman, 8, had a fish named Wanda. "And it was a real big fish and it swam away. So I had an apple to eat."

It may not be poetry as most people know it, but to a group of developmentally disabled children and senior citizens, it was well worth putting on stage.

What started out as an idea only two weeks agoflourished Saturday afternoon at Harundale Mall, as onlookers were treated to a show where children from the Marley Glen Special School acted out memories of the seniors.

In the process, it brought seniors who frequent the mall together with 10 special needs children, ages 7 to 17, many with Down's syndrome and some with autism.

A groupof professional songwriters, actors and performers joined in, developing a play that reflected what the children and seniors wrote.

"Ifelt I was on the outside looking in: 'How are they going toget me into this program?' " said Slim Harrison, an Appalachian folk musicianwho performed in the play.

"It's like a rag rug. Scraps are tied together, and you come out with something beautiful. This is what we all made. Even the odd one makes it look better."

And so they performed "Memories, Tied Up With a Ribbon of Blue," which included songsand dances and the poems the children dictated to the seniors.

"See their faces," said Susan Yaruta, director of Partner in the Arts, which put the show together. "This is self-esteem being built. The children have to sit down and follow directions and they learn social skills."

Each senior was paired with a youngster, and together, they came up with the script. The children were given a topic, like music, and told to talk about it. The seniors wrote down what they said, and the words became poetry.

Beth Vaughan, a professional storyteller, read over music while the seniors and children acted out a picnic on stage, complete with waltzes and jumping rope, as the poems became the words to the play.

They even sang an original song, "The Favorite Food Polka,"along with such old standbys as "Amazing Grace" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

"It's a great thing," said William Merbough, whose 5-year-old son, James, acted in the performance. "It gives them something to do, something to look forward to."

But perhaps the most important part of the play was not the play itself but the bond formed between the children and the seniors.

Senior Mary Lou Clark couldn't wait for James to show up.

"I'm excited as if I was a kid myself," she said. "James and I are waltzing. He is such a bright child. He's a hunk, that's what he is."

The seniors, most ofwhom never had taken to the stage before the performance, said they developed a new understanding of special needs children.

"I found it very interesting," said Arnold LaFontaine, who lives in Glen Burnie. "We have lots in common with the kids. We seem to like each other.

"I used to feel sorry for them," he said. "Now I realize they arejust like other kids."

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