In Towson, all ages hit the stage

Retirees and Goucher students collaborate on, act in production that spans generations

December 02, 2007|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,Sun reporter

Stephen Speicher goes to college, listens to the Gorillaz on his iPod nano and likes club-hopping with friends. Helen Engel lives in a retirement community, has her car radio permanently set to a classical music station and plays bridge just about every week.

Speicher, 20, and Engel, 78, have almost six decades and two generations between them, but they've got some things in common -- for instance, they both enjoy acting in the play they helped put together.

The play, A Slice of Life, written and produced by Goucher College students and residents of the Edenwald retirement community in Towson, will be performed today at Edenwald.

"Even though there might be a generation gap, it's important to close it," said Eryn London, 22, a theater major at Goucher who spearheaded the project and is directing the play. "There are so many similarities between college students and senior citizens."

London created an intergenerational theater workshop at Edenwald last fall as part of an independent study project. Several Goucher students and a few Edenwald residents met every Friday for a couple of hours to play team-building and improvisation games. The youngest participant was 17; the oldest was 101.

In the spring, the group collaborated on writing and performing a play. After four months of preparation, the troupe performed their creation, What Did You Expect? -- A Performance for Both Young and Old Presented by Both Young and Old, in May at Edenwald's auditorium.

The play explored the shared experiences -- such as socializing and dealing with neighbors within a building -- of Goucher students and Edenwald residents. Scenes alternated between portraying life at Edenwald and Goucher, but residents and students played roles in both settings.

"The Edenwald residents are kind of living a campus life, too," said Speicher. "They have to deal with hall mates, the politics surrounding life in a community, dating issues and challenges such as food service and dealing with the inconvenience of construction."

For their performance, the group had set up 80 chairs in Edenwald's auditorium, expecting to at best fill them up. More than 100 people showed up, and some had to sit on the floor, London recalled.

In October, the group, which now consists of 12 students and six seniors, started working on A Slice of Life. The play, a comedy, focuses on childhood, growing up and aging.

Most of the scenes take place in a pizza parlor, with four groups sitting at four different tables. The scenes bounce from table to table. The conversations include seniors' memories about childhood and college students' thoughts on the future and growing older.

In one scene, a senior who had gained weight since her youth discusses her anxieties about having to wear a bathing suit when Edenwald opens up its new pool. In another scene, a college student talks about his fears of being alone and ignored by society when he grows older.

During Friday's final rehearsal, the cast laughed good-naturedly when lines were fumbled. After one scene that involved a discussion of rising gas prices, an older troupe member shared a memory of seeing gas advertised for six gallons for a dollar.

Both residents and students said they value their experiences within the theater group.

"It makes you feel young again," said Engel, a retiree, former welfare case worker and a 1951 graduate of Goucher. "I've learned that things really haven't changed that much from when I was in college."

Al Mears, a 76-year-old retired insurance underwriter, said, "I was surprised at how vital and quick, intelligent, respectful, and sympathetic the young people have been."

London said the students' views of older adults have changed.

"And they have learned that we're not all lazy and rude," she said. "We're mature."

A Slice of Life will be performed in Edenwald's auditorium today. Because of limited space, the performance is open only to Goucher students, Edenwald residents and their families.

This spring, the team will perform Our Town. Two performances, which are open to the public, will take place at Goucher, and one will be performed at Edenwald.

Kelley Dye, Edenwald's activities coordinator, said that the project has opened the students' minds about seniors.

"Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you can't be active and creative," she said.

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