Creative Age Festival 2015

We are busy with preparations for the Creative Age Festival happening June 4-6 at the North Edmonton Seniors Association and Timms Centre for the Arts.

The Creative Age Festival features performances by seniors and intergenerational artists as well as workshops in a variety of art forms. This year’s festival will have 8 workshops to choose from in music, theatre, creative writing, dance and much more.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the workshops being offered June 4-6…

1) Musical Improv with Grindstone Theatre

Apr 8 (4)

Grindstone Theatre was formed in 2011 by Artistic Director, Byron Martin, to create new late night content at the Varscona Theatre. Grindstone’s flagship show, The 11 O’clock Number! is currently in it’s third season and it continues to attract attention for its unique form of musical comedy entertainment. Aside from it’s weekly show, The 11 O’clock Number! has performed for The Liberal Party of Canada, Fountain Tire/United Way, Edmonton Potterwatch, HSBC, Edmonton Children’s Dance Theatre and many other corporate events. The show has also toured festivals across western Canada and to New York City.

2) Memoir Writing with Shirley Serviss

Apr 8 (5)

Shirley A. Serviss is a long-time participant in Edmonton’s literary scene as a writer and writing instructor. She has published three collections of poetry and co-edited two anthologies. Her poetry and personal essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and collections. In addition to teaching at MacEwan University and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension, she has taught at numerous seniors’ centers and for the Edmonton Lifelong Learning Association (ELLA). Shirley also works part-time as the staff literary Artist on the Wards for the Friends of University Hospitals.

3) Performance Storytelling with GeriActors & Friends 

Photo by Eric Kozakiewicz
Photo by Eric Kozakiewicz

The GeriActors & Friends are based at SAGE (Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton) and supported by the Drama Department and Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta.  They perform to the general public, seniors and caregivers. The ‘Friends’ are students and alumni from the University of Alberta. The GeriActors Outreach Program includes workshops for seniors in Comedy Improvisation, Performance Storytelling, Acting, and Creative Movement. They also help to produce the Creative Age Festival and Under One Sky, a theatre project with multicultural immigrant seniors. They believe in the principle of ‘creative aging’, in which seniors become engaged in artistic activity at a level of comparative mastery. This leads to effective artistic expression, a developing sense of community, social and civic engagement, and an overall increase in health and well-being.

Registration opens May 1 – keep your eyes peeled for more information about the Creative Age Festival 2015.

See you at the festival!!!

For more information visit:

GeriActor’s and CRIPSiE are dancing again!

Editor’s note: The GeriActors and Friends were excited to have Amanda Newman, Shula Strassfeld and Kevin Ormsby from Dance Exchange last week to facilitate a two week dance/movement workshop series in conjunction with a local mixed-ability group called CRIPSiE. Here is a blog post by Bill Yong about the first day. Stay tuned for additional blog posts about the experience.

Its always a treat when Dance Exchange visits the GeriActors, we are reminded the potential our bodies have to create, share and understand. Here are a couple things to remember when taking a Dance Exchange Workshop.
1. Always say things twice: Sometimes the brain needs a second run through to gather all the information/instructions needed. It could also be helpful to present the information in a different way (physically or use a simile!). Understanding and common ground are necessary when working with a big group.
2. The Private Studio: Everyone’s got a private studio. Its portable and the handiest thing ever. The private studio is a private space you go into discover, figure things out or rehearse for one last time before presenting something. Access to this studio is as easy as turning your body away from the group for a moment.
3. Forgetting is a very natural editing tool: If you didn’t remember it, was it really all that necessary?
4. There’s no such thing as a wrong answer: In the world of dance, everything you do is an offer. The smallest offer can elicit the biggest opportunities.
GeriActors and CRIPSiE warming up with Dance Exchange.

Silent Crime: Addressing a difficult issue through Drama.

Editor’s Note: Last Year the GeriActors and Friends performed “Our Lear” in conjunction with a project one of our Friends directed with the Jewish Family Services about Elder Abuse. Here is a post by the director Barry Bilinsky about his experience.     

As a volunteer with the GeriActors and Friends since 2012, I have etched an interesting role for myself in the group. As neither a student nor a senior, I find I often search for openings to make offers and jump in, since few scenes early on were put into my care from the outset. When an opportunity arose with the title Socio-Drama Director – I jumped at the chance. Luckily for me, my experience with the GeriActors was crucial for working on the project.

The Silent Crime was a project developed by Jewish Family Services as part of their “Pan-Canadian Elder Abuse Awareness and Education for Ethno-Cultural Communities” Campaign. This project spanned three years and involved five cities across Canada. Each Jewish Family Service office in the five separate cities put on shows that were adjusted to meet their individual community’s needs. A primary goal of the plays – other than to be staged and raise awareness on the issue of elder abuse – were to have casts consisting of volunteers and seniors. The GeriActors, a group with more energy than many others I’ve come across, was full of performers interested in the project.

With a task at hand and a bevy of eager beavers, I was ready to get to work. It took awhile to figure out how to approach the text and what would be the most beneficial approach to the text. Something I find integral to the work created through GeriActors and Friends’ play development is the need for characters that stem from our own reality. This requires connecting to the topic at hand and finding points of contact between our lives and the world in the play. After openly discussing the issue at our first rehearsal, we soon discovered that everyone had a notion of what elder abuse was, but some had to stretch to connect. Eventually, I would find this circumstance to be the most compelling and driving element of the play. Due to time constraints and the chaos of the summer, we staged two readings of the piece at The Jewish Drop-In Centre and Temple Beth Ora. Both events raised very important questions about the text and helped me focus the next leg of the project.

After the play readings, I continued to struggle with the script. I found certain elements, that were meant to create a stark image of elder abuse, actually removed the issue from a personal experience to one that happened to “other people”. The more I honed in on these issues, the more the piece flowed. I began by breaking down the perpetrator/victim situation in the script – one we often see in depictions of domestic abuse – and started looking at the family structure. What are some circumstances where someone would be driven to be cruel to a loved one in their later years? How can someone justify this behaviour? What are different levels of abusive behaviour? I listened carefully to input from my cast, and discovered the players could believe their actions more. That is when the issue started to make sense! Each act of abusive behaviour stemmed from a need, something they had trouble getting through other means. I was happy to see the piece begin to pose a clear set of questions regarding why someone would commit elder abuse and how it might be prevented or intervened.

Although I was glad to find a way to spur on conversation with the piece, I was aware of some problems to piece might now face. The one at the forefront of my mind was – If we can find ways for the characters to justify their actions, are we justifying this kind of behaviour. Furthermore, are we at risk of blaming the victim of this situation for the abuse put on them. As with much of the work that gets the GeriActors treatment, the answers are rarely solved and never easy.

Looking back on the project, I am more inspired by the intergenerational creation process. Had I approached this scene without the diverse conversations and conflicting opinions that arose from very different perspectives on the piece, I would have been able to draw stronger conclusions on a topic that requires the opposite. I was also able to toggle through the different perspectives in real time, ask opposing questions and get contradictory statements on the issue which made the piece richer and far more interesting. But, most importantly, by combining the GeriActors and the Silent Crime, I had a committed group of fun individuals who were interested in seeing the piece grow.

Barry Bilinsky
Barry Bilinsky

An Intergenerational Conversation about doing Laundry

Editor’s Note: After the holidays, the GeriActors are at full swing, devising new plays. Here is a post by Bill Yong about the experience.

Today the GeriActors shared stories about how they did laundry when they were young. We heard stories of doing laundry with a maid in Trinidad during the 1970s, washing dirty diapers in Leicester, England in the 1960s and using snow in Athabasca, Alberta in the 1960s. Each story was unique in its challenges and approaches in solving this simple everyday problem: how to clean dirty clothes. As we began to have a conversation about everyone’s experiences, the younger people were baffled by how much work it was to clean clothes and change an infant’s diaper: we simply throw our dirty laundry into the washer and buy disposable diapers.
We began to ask questions: How much do we take for granted today? How much waste and energy would be saved if we changed the way we did our laundry? What can we tell about someone’s life or values by the way they do their laundry/ change diapers?

Here are a couple tools used for laundry shared by the GeriActors:

Scrub board: You had to be careful how you used it or you’d hurt your knuckles scrubbing your clothes on this tool.

Scrub Board.jpeg   

Mangle: Used to squeeze out as much water as possible after washing. You had to be VERY careful not to get your fingers in the machine.


Copper: Filled with hot water, Liz used it to clean the dirty diapers.

Images from:

Welcome to our World: An afternoon with the GeriActors and Friends (Holiday Party)

Editor’s Note: It was a day full of ideas, stories, and overall energy. A week ago, the GeriActors and Friends hosted their annual Holiday party, featuring a performance storytelling workshop, presentations by students in David Barnet’s intergenerational theatre class, and a work-in-progress play by the GeriActors and Friends entitled “Welcome to Our World”. Here is a blog post by Bill Yong about the event.

The GeriActors and Friends Holiday Party is a time we open our doors and invite everyone into the world that we create and play in. It started with some introductions. Everyone in the room collectively shouted their name into the middle of a circle and then introduced themselves to everyone. “We all wear glasses, we’ve been to a post-secondary institution, we all believe theatre has the power to make change” these were the conversations people were having, making introductions and finding things in common with each other. 

An art project created by one of the students featuring her experiences with the group.
An art project by Francis, one of the students featuring her experiences with the group.

Later we shared two-minute stories. Starting with the prompts, “A time you almost got in trouble” and “A journey you had taken” one person shared a story while the second would listen for two minutes. It was interesting observing the symbiotic relationship between storyteller and listener. Both needed each other, the storyteller needed the support of the listener while the listener needed the storyteller’s story to sustain their curiosity. This made me curious about the different physical and verbal ways a listener can support a storyteller. How does a storyteller nurture that support into the delivery of their story? After both people shared, the groups came together to create a moving tableaux from one of the stories shared. It was remarkable watching all these stories come alive in such a short amount of time.   

After these initial activities, we had our famous GeriActors coffee break with treats, hot drinks and great conversation. A series of short presentations by students in the intergenerational class were given following the coffee break. There was an installation/poetry performance, a queer theatre company proposal, a reading from an excerpt in a memoir based on a student’s grandparents entitled “I Killed Hitler”, and a short read of a play inspired by the GeriActors featuring actors from the company. Lastly, the company performed our work-in-progress play entitled “Welcome to our world” and had a talk back. 

A read of Christine's play by the GeriActors and Friends
A read of Christine’s play by the GeriActors and Friends

The talk back provided us with incredible new insights and questions, a common feature of GeriActors Holiday Party talk backs. What is the GeriActors style of working? Someone proposed it wasan active collective model: every member is constantly looking for ways to make offers and support each other in rehearsal, whether actively participating or not serving as an engaged audience member. What is it that allows an inanimate object like a dead fish to have a voice and enhance the story at the same time? Is it the element of surprise? Is it the presence of a different perspective? Lastly, what can we do to support this intergenerational work? How do we get more students to enrol in the intergenerational theatre class as the University is making budget cuts? How do we allow students to see the value of this experience and the importance of this conversation? It seemed like these questions bred other questions, and we left the holiday party with curiosity and a lot of work ahead of us in the coming year.