Memories are revived with a dash of history

Actors draw seniors into world of learning and activities

November 14, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Dressed in a long gown embellished with jewels, Mary Ann Jung rummaged through bags stuffed with more props.

She pulled out a French hood, the hat of choice for women in the late 1500s, and put it on Geraldine Graziano. Next she plopped a velvet, muffin-shaped hat on Allen Breymaier, and secured a lace collar, called a ruff, around his neck.

"Now that you're dressed for the occasion, I am going to teach you my favorite dance, called the galliard," Jung said in her persona as Queen Elizabeth I. "Everyone in 16th-century England danced because it was entertaining and it didn't cost anything."

Graziano and Breymaier were participating in "Good Queen Bess," an interactive performance, led by Jung, at the Seven Oaks Senior Center in Perry Hall. The show is one of 20 being held through February at the county's senior centers, in a program called History Live!

The program, which brings historical figures to life, was started to help seniors keep active physically and mentally, said Donna Bilz, a program specialist for the county's Department of Aging.

"We want to continue to educate and teach our seniors," said Bilz. "History Live! is a way we can not only do that, but also make learning fun for them."

History Live! shows include a presentation with a performer or performers dressed in period garb, an interactive history lesson, music, and a question-and-answer session at the end.

In "Good Queen Bess," Jung, a professional actress, started with an interactive presentation that covered life during the 16th century when Elizabeth reigned. She discussed the queen's long journeys.

"I don't stay in one castle for more than a few months of the year. For my safety, I travel with my yeomen of guards," she said. "I also have about 400 carts that carry my clothes, jewels, tables, chairs, plates and beds."

Then she asked the seniors about their favorite cuisine, and told them about some of the favorite dishes of her time.

"We eat chicken, pork, beef, fish, rabbits, pheasant, partridges, and peacock," she said. "But when we cooked we put the meat back into its skin with the eyes and everything. The more lifelike it was, the more appetizing it appeared."

Jung took the group back to a time when backgammon was a popular pastime, and theater productions cost a penny and consisted of standing for four-hour shows.

Graziano, 65, said she was glad to be there for the trip.

"I am interested in history, and this performance was absolutely fantastic," said the Cub Hill woman, a semiretired academic coordinator for the Johns Hopkins University. "This program helps develop an interest in history among seniors. It helps us in our culture [to] understand other cultures better as well as giving us a better understanding of current events."

Breymaier, a 73-year-old retiree from the aerospace industry who lives in Perry Hall, said he appreciated the authenticity of the program.

"The performer's accent, dress code, and level of knowledge was outstanding," he said. "No matter what question we asked her, she never hesitated in answering."

In addition to Jung, shows will be presented by Baltimore-based Thirst N' Howl Musical Productions; the Maryland Humanities Council; and Presidents and Their First Ladies, a traveling group based in Winter Park, Fla.

Figures to be highlighted in the series include the Wright brothers; Susan B. Anthony, who struggled to get voting rights for women; Rosie the Riveter; and Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.

Breymaier said he intends to attend as many of the performances as possible. The shows are good for not only educational purposes, but also they get seniors out in the community, he said.

"This program gets us out with our peers, and it educates us about what the world was like before our time," he said. "When we retire, our mental activity slows down. So we need all the physical and mental activity we can get to keep us going."

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