“When you look back life doesn’t seem to have happened in order.”
“It just seems to have happened.”
“Everything mixing all at the same time.”
“Sometimes you can zoom in on something.”
“It’s not always the best, but it’s what you got.”
“All of the moments of your life, happening at once.”
These are the musings of people who’ve seen a lot of life between them. A group of young at heart women, aged 82 to 99 and living at Tower One/Tower East in New Haven, recently performed in The Elder Play Project, original pieces based on their life stories written with the guidance of Long Wharf Theatre’s education department. What emerged from those writing workshops were the stories of lives well lived.
Last week, a group of about 40 junior and senior theatre students from Co-Op High School in New Haven walked over to Tower One/Tower East to participate. “I am so excited to see you all here. You know I love you so I am going to do everything I can to get you involved in what I am doing at Long Wharf,” said Madelyn Ardito, a former Co-op teacher and current LWT education programs manager who coordinates the Elder Play Project, an ongoing initiative.
It was a unique and much needed opportunity for each generation. “There has been a lot of recent research about intergenerational programming,” said Susan Skalka, life enrichment coordinator at Tower One. “They need to understand each other – it’s going to sound kumbaya to say this – in order to create a better world,” she said.
For an hour, there was a glimpse of what that better world would look like. The group, comprised of Terry Berger, Rhoda Blumenthal, Esther Brochin, Bertha Kahn, Ruth Katz, Laura Levine, Gertrude Lerman, Bettye Morrison, Gladys Pine, Sylvia Rifkin, Sylvia Rosenthal, and Evelyne Siegel, performed their stories (with the help of Co-op students Laura Bedoya, Sumiah Gay, and Juneau Howard). With openness and bravery, the women spoke of their lives, of victories and disappointments, of their loves and fears. They told the stories of their lives simply, which made it all more powerful.
Some of them described fleeing the Holocaust. Other talked about finding their lifetime love. Other spoke of raising children and what options were available to them as women growing up in the mid-20th century. Still other described their personal fears – one spoke of learning how to become her own person. The elderly women moved back and forth in time – they might reflect on what it is to be alive now, but the young girls they once were aren’t so far away.
The teenagers were clearly caught up in their elders’ stories, asking questions when it was over and sharing their own appreciations. “It moved me inside,” one young man said. “I want to say you all are amazing.” “This was a really good message about working through your struggles,” another student said.
The overall feeling of the event can be expressed in a single sentiment. “Listening to you reminded me of my grandparents,” said teacher Rob Esposito.