Oh Brave New World: In Studio with Shula and Stuart

Editor’s Note: Last week the GeriActors had the great pleasure of working with three distinguished artists in the intergenerational arts community: Shula Strassfeld a resident artist with Dance Exchange in Washington DC, Stuart Kandall the founder of Stagebridge in California, and our Artistic Director David Barnet. Here is the last post of a three part series Bill has written about the experience. (Check out Shula’s blog about the experience: http://danceexchange.org/2014/10/02/storytelling-dance-and-shakespeare/)

     It’s the last day. We’ve had a full week of workshops, rehearsals, meals, and discussions. In the last six days, it feels like we have tried to take every ounce of knowledge and experience from Stuart and Shula. We’ve just finished our final showcase at the Second Playing Space which featured the dances we created with CRIPSiE, performances by students from David Barnet’s Drama 357 Shakespeare class, the GeriActors & Friends, and an intergenerational dance piece choreographed by Shula Strassfeld.

"Brave New World"  Choreography by Shula Strassfled Performers: David Barnet, Becca Barrington, Stuart Kandall, Barry Bilinsky, Shula Strassfeld & Bill Yong Photo by Mat Simpson
“Brave New World”
Choreography by Shula Strassfled
Performers: David Barnet, Becca Barrington, Stuart Kandall, Barry Bilinsky, Shula Strassfeld & Bill Yong
Photo by Mat Simpson

     As we desperately try and record Stuart’s storytelling and Shula’s dance tools and reflect on the week’s events, we begin to ponder about the future: Whats next? How do we keep the momentum going? How do we continue to create evocative and meaningful prompts? How do we keep being physical in the work that we do?

Makram Ayache & Kianna Woo performing Merchant of Venice Photo by Mat Simpson
Makram Ayache & Kianna Woo
performing Merchant of Venice
Photo by Mat Simpson


     “You know how to do it now, so just keep doing it.” said Shula during a talkback this week. “It’s about giving yourself permission to do all these things.”

We will. Thank you for a week of dance, storytelling, advice, and the provocative offers to continue with this work. Thank you Stuart Kandall and Shula Strassfeld.

Until next time.

Stuart Kandall
Stuart Kandall
Shula Strassfeld
Shula Strassfeld

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Our time with CRIPSiE: In Studio with Shula and Stuart

Editor’s Note: Becca, David, and Bill had an opportunity this week to participate in a project that Stuart and Shula were collaborating on with CRIPSiE. CRIPSiE, formerly known as iDance, is a mixed ability dance company based out of the Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton, comprised of dancers with disabilities and their allies. This group creates socially engaged dance pieces in hopes of promoting a more inclusive society. Here is a post by Bill on his experience.  (For more information about CRIPSIE check out their website: http://www.cripsie.ca/)

After Stuart gave us the prompt, “my favorite item in my house is..” the room was full of chatter. We each described the physical details of the item: the texture, colors, the object’s placement, and the way this item made us feel. The entire gymnasium was buzzing with poetic energy.


“When I go home, I imagine there are hundreds of adoring fans cheering, and I start to play my electric drum set.”

“I’ve got a collection of crystal sculptures in my house, and whenever I get a bit of extra money, I try to add to that collection.”

“I’ve got this screen in my bedroom where I can watch my favourite shows, lounge, and eat crackers, I love it.”

Later, Shula had everyone create a gesture based on someone’s description of an item and  another based on an impression of the entire experience. This started the process of creating two very dynamic and unique group choreographies.

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson

After, we created a sequence in duets based on the premise of support. 

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson

Its was incredibly inspirational working with CRIPSiE. I admire their inclusivity and openness: from the moment I walked into the room, I became a part of the conversation, the creation, and the process. The thing I will take most out of this experience was the group’s ingenuity: the challenges experienced by members of the group became beautiful offers, gifts unique to CRIPSIE. This is something to keep in mind in our practice with the GeriActors and Friends. Thank you CRIPSiE for sharing this experience with us.

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Home is where the Heart is: GeriActors in Studio with Stuart and Shula.

Editor’s note: Last week the GeriActors had the great pleasure of working with three distinguished artists in the intergenerational arts community: Shula Strassfeld a resident artist with Dance Exchange in Washington DC, Stuart Kandall the founder of Stagebridge in California, and our Artistic Director David Barnet. This is the first post of a three part series Bill will be writing about the experience. (Check out Shula’s blog about the experience: http://danceexchange.org/2014/10/02/storytelling-dance-and-shakespeare/)

     Our journey began with Stuart Kandall on Tuesday with an exploration of what we defined as home. We explored this question through a variety of mediums: drawing, physical exploration, free writing, and two-minute stories. As we explored the question, other questions began to emerge: When do we not feel at home? What are the essential things in our lives that make up our home? What senses are triggered when we think of home? It was an interesting process witnessing the various things that grounded people: a loved one, sitting beside a fire on a rainy day, a sense of play or, a warm blanket knit by a grandmother.

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson

     At the end of the day, Stuart shared a story about a moment when he was forced out of his home and only had a few short moments to take items with him. We followed the story with a simulation of this situation with the group. Suddenly everyone was forced to do a quick filter of things that were essential to their being: tokens from grandparents, photo albums, pills, iphone 5s, laptops, beloved animals, and comic books. We discovered that much of what made us at home we already had: our memories and our experiences. Everything else we had the ability to replace. We then shared stories of moments when we had to move and downsize and our mechanisms of filtering what was necessary and what wasn’t.

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson

     The exploration continued on Thursday with the addition of Shula Strassfeld, a dancer who had worked with GeriActors two years ago. From the discoveries made Tuesday we told stories about these items and selected ten words to create physical gestures with. From those words each person selected one to incorporate into a piece of group choreography. After a sharing our movement pieces with the group, we incorporated text into the original choreography. What came out of these groups was incredible. Each performance had a unique movement quality, style, and story: some had music, some incorporated full narrations, and some became a mosaic of fragmented parts of multiple stories. I was astounded by our ability to produce incredible art in such a short period of time.

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson
GeriactorsSep2014Photos-47
Photo by Mat Simpson

Photo by Mat Simpson
Photo by Mat Simpson
GeriactorsSep2014Photos-53
Photo by Mat Simpson

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The Start of Something: The GeriActors are back for another year.

On Thursday the GeriActors and Friends had our first rehearsal since the Festival of Edmonton Seniors Theatre (FEST) in June. After a year of filming, performances and workshops, we’re back from a much needed break, refreshed and ready for another year. The start of a new year dawns the beginning of a new group of students from David Barnet’s Intergenerational Theatre Class (Drama 427 at the University of Alberta) who will be coming in next week, with fresh ideas, new energy and perspective.

This September is also the start of a international collaborative project featuring facilitators Stuart Kandell the founder of StageBridge in California, Shula Strassfeld from Dance Exchange in Washington DC and the Artistic Director of the GeriActors and Friends David Barnet from Edmonton in a Storytelling, Dance and Shakespeare project developing intergenerational art through these modes of creation. There will be two free public workshops and a performance all taking place at the Second Playing Space, Timms Centre for the Arts on 87 Ave and 112 Street in which everyone is welcome to participate. Please contact Becca at 780-248-1556 or email her at geriactors.friends@gmail.com for further information or to register. We would love to see you there!

Seminar and Workshop

Thursday, Sept 18, 12 – 1pm

Introduction to the community-based work of Dance Exchange and Stagebridge

Free Public Workshop

Saturday, Sept 20, 1 – 3pm

For all ages, seniors included. No experience necessary

Dance Extravaganza Performance and Potluck

Sunday, Sept 21, 3 – 5pm

For all ages. Perform or observe. Meet the workshop leaders

Feel free to bring a potluck item or a small donation for GeriActors & Friends

Dance Workshop at FEST 2013
Dance Workshop at FEST 2013

Here is a bit of information on the three facilitators:

Stuart Kandell and Stagebridge

Stuart Kandell is the founding Artistic Director of Stagebridge, the oldest seniors’ theatre company in the U.S., and a consultant with the National Centre for Creative Aging in Washington, D.C. His creative and research specialty is storytelling, and he has established nationally acclaimed programs.

‘Stagebridge Senior Theatre works to fundamentally transform American attitudes towards aging from the traditional image of decline to a new vision of continuous growth. We accomplish this mission with nationally recognized and award-winning landmark Creative Aging programs that offer older adults opportunities for lifelong learning and participation in the performing arts. Stagebridge’s unique position as a theatre company “for, by and of” seniors demonstrates in action the many ways in which elders improve and enrich our culture and our communities.’ (http://stagebridge.org)

Shula Strassfeld and Dance Exchange –

Dance Exchange’s choreography, which is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, uses personal narratives expressed through natural, everyday gesture.

‘The mission of the Dance Exchange is to create dances that arise from asking: Who gets to dance? Where is the dance happening? What is it about? Why does it matter? Dance Exchange is an intergenerational company of artists that creates dance and engages people in making art. We serve as an incubator for creative research, bringing ideas to action through collaborations that range from experts in the field of dance to unexpected movers and makers. Through these exchanges we stretch the boundaries between the studio, stage, and other environments to make dances that are rooted in the particularity of people and place. We recognize the body and movement as an essential resource to understand and investigate across disciplines. Through local, national, international, and online projects we gather and create community to contribute to a healthy and more sustainable environment.’ (http://danceexchange.org)

David Barnet and GeriActors –

David Barnet, the founding artistic director of GeriActors, is a professor in the Department of Drama at the University of Alberta, where he specializes in community-based and ensemble theatre, and acting Shakespeare. He is the founding artistic director of Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, and has extensive experience in Popular Theatre and Theatre for Development in Africa and Asia. He is a 3M National Teaching Fellow.

In developing GeriActors and the practice of intergenerational theatre and creative aging, David Barnet has been influenced by the work of Stuart Kendall and Stagebridge in Oakland, California; Arthur Strimling and Roots and Branches in New York; ESTA (Elders Share the Arts) in New York; Susan Pearlstein (founder of the National Centre for Creative Aging) in Washington, DC; and Pam Schweitzer, the founder of Age Exchange in London, UK. ​

014 FEST (2) 2013
Liz Reid in dance workshop

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Meet the GeriActors: Liz Allchin

Editor’s note: Liz Allchin is acting in her second production at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival this August. Here is an entry by LIz about the GeriActors and Friends, her Fringe experience, and her newest role in the upcoming production “Band Age”.

Tell us about your experience with GeriActors & Friends. What drew you to joining?

I had always been interested in acting since childhood – but when I wanted to go to drama school after I had finished my education at 18 – my parents were told that this was not a suitable career by my grammar school headmistress in England – so I became a teacher – my main study was drama. Then life took over. Eventually I came to Canada, Edmonton with my family….. After I had attended a rock choir program, I met David Barnet and he asked me if I might like to try GeriActors & Friends. It was like a dream come true. I feel very privileged to be part of the group. It is great to act but also it is wonderful to be among so many creative people. Having young people is the icing on the cake –it enriches the program. I have learnt so much – it is so exciting!

Liz performing in Felixstowe at FEST 2013
Liz performing in Felixstowe at FEST 2013

Tell us about your experiences outside of GeriActors & Friends. This is your second Fringe show correct?

Last year I challenged myself to audition for a Fringe play for the first time and I got a part! This is a whole different dimension. I found the work that I had done with GeriActors was a blessing. I was able to be part of a different group of people and I was the oldest person. I had to keep up with people dancing and singing. We had a lot of fun!

Could you share a bit about the process of working on a Fringe show?

First you have to be prepared to give up at least 6 hours a week to rehearsals for a couple of months. Then you must learn the script. I find as you get older memorization takes a little longer. It’s great if you can twist someone’s arm to help you practice .At rehearsals you block out the moves with the script. You work as a team. At a Fringe show there are time constraints – you have to be done in a certain time and this means everyone has to be organized!

Tell us a bit more about your show Band Age.

It is set in small town Alberta – there are a group of seniors who have formed a band and they play for seniors, hospitals etc. This story is a comedy – it’s about the characters and their interactions. It is fun. The lady who wrote the play Vivian Mayne is a senior – she is 91 years old. The story revolves around this cast of characters that are based on people she met while playing piano in a number of seniors’ bands.

Liz telling a story at a Performance Storytelling workshop in 2012
Liz telling a story at a Performance Storytelling workshop in 2012

How has being involved in GeriActors & Friends helped prepare you for the Fringe (and vice versa)?

First you know that if you put your mind to this challenge – you can do this – G&F builds your confidence. It helps with the team building between your cast members and the director. You do not feel overwhelmed and can give feedback and make suggestions. The nuts and bolts of acting – stage directions etc. learnt at G&F are a great help. I have also learnt that if you make an error – not to panic – just carry on – the audience does not know what has happened!

How is the Fringe and GeriActors & Friends similar? Different?

Obviously we present both G&F shows and Fringe shows to an audience – but the Fringe audience is bigger and we do six shows in the space of two weeks, which can be energy draining! The Fringe location is always the same – when we present G&F shows we are often in different locations so we must be very flexible. Also you have to contend with the critics (press etc.) at the Fringe! Generally this does not happen at GeriActors.

Both of the Fringe plays I have been involved with are from stories based on someone’s life experiences, the first one was autobiographical. The G&F plays are similar in this way but we help with scripts – we are more involved with the dialogue. At G&F we are much more interactive with the audience, we encourage participation. At a Fringe play you hope to catch the imagination of the audience, evoke feelings and responses, maybe provide a little catharsis but direct engagement with the audience does not generally happen.

Look for Band Age at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival this August. Band Age Poster

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