Dorothy Jones gathers every week with a small group of women at Lenbrook Life Plan Community in Atlanta to share stories about friendship, write haiku and prepare for an upcoming performance at the Woodruff Arts Center.
And on a recent afternoon, a writing exercise begins with a simple prompt: a great friend is someone who … (fill in the blank).
After a few moments, Jones reads her observations about friendship jotted down in ink on lined paper. She speaks with conviction. She has presence.
A great friend is someone who listens and pays attention to my emotions and my face — do the emotions and my words match my face? … who can discover what I am truly saying.
Jones is one of as many as 200 residents at Lenbrook, a senior community in Buckhead, partnering with Woodruff Arts Center in a collaborative art project combining dance, theater, music and visual art.
Residents drew inspiration from the heartfelt and wise lyrics of singer-songwriter Bill Withers in his hit, “Lean on Me.” They painted colorful butterflies on enormous canvases in an art studio; others worked on choreography for a dance performance, and a group of singers rehearsed the sweet song from the 1970s. Jones is part of a group of seniors who have been participating in unique theater workshops that combine oral histories, storytelling and haiku.
And the seniors will all come together for a performance Sunday, Sept. 10, at the Family Festival at the Woodruff Arts Center. The festival, which will take place from 1-4 p.m. Sept. 10, brings together programming by the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art. The Lenbrook residents will perform at 3 p.m. at the Rich Theater at the Woodruff Arts Center.
The festival also offers art-making, interactive musical storytimes and theater workshops. Families are encouraged (but not required) to register for the Free Family Festival; go to www.alliancetheatre.org.
Jones, 83, said she wasn’t so sure about the project when she first joined about six weeks ago, and admits she “took a leap of faith.”
There was no script, no clearly outlined performance. But she’s grown to embrace the creative process, which has given way to an enriching experience.
“I am astounded I can be an actor,” said Jones. “I gained confidence. I am evolving from someone hiding in the woodwork to coming out of the woodwork.”
She and others were a testimony to the fact you are never too old to try something new.
Lisa Kiely, director of enrichment for Lenbrook, who helped spearhead the project, said she wanted residents to feel comfortable about engaging in art, even if it was something they had never done before.
“We want people to experience the joy of creating something artistic without the pressure of being perfect,” said Kiely. “It’s about the joy in the journey, not just the destination.”
Rosemary Newcott, artistic director of Theatre for Youth and Families for the Alliance Theatre, led the workshops with Jones and others at Lenbrook. She modeled the project after workshops with teens known as the “Palefsky Collision Project,” a unique theatrical experience which can be deeply personal while at the same time, teens create a play in just a few weeks. Teens are presented a classic text to be used to form a foundation for exercises, such as text from the Emancipation Proclamation, John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“I believe the act of storytelling is one that can be therapeutic at any age. It is a big part of the Collision experience. I can see moments of camaraderie and recognition emerge in our Lenbrook circle as one lady’s story ignites feelings and/or stories from someone else,” said Newcott. “I’ve heard them say, ‘Why have we never really talked about this before?’ There may also have been an initial sense that what each of them might have to say might not be that interesting, but that is gone and we are now a little more privy to how rich each life really is.”
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