NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

January 31, 2013

'An opportunity to have fun'

Theater offers arts education program for seniors

Each Tuesday morning, a group of acting students assembles at the Firehouse Center for the Arts for a lesson.

They spend the 90-minute class at the Newburyport theater practicing their roles and preparing for their upcoming performance. They take cues and get reminders from their director-instructor, Charles Van Eman, as he helps them become more comfortable in their parts and gives advice on voice projection and enunciation.

In the end, however, the mission of the workshop is simply to have a good time. That’s one of the main reasons why, a few months ago, the Firehouse staff began their new Senior Readers Theater workshop, an arts education program for seniors age 55 and older.

“This isn’t about doing a professional show,” said Van Eman, a veteran actor of more than 30 years. “This is an opportunity to have fun.”

This is the second session of the Senior Readers. For a fee, seniors from throughout the area learn the basics of acting during the workshop and, at the end, they give a free performance before an audience.

The performance is a staged reading, a format in which actors remain seated and read from a script. The design is particularly helpful to senior actors, as they don’t have to worry about memorizing lines or fear falling due to mobility constraints, Van Eman said. They rely on facial expressions to help convey the plot line and the audience has an experience similar to reading a book, he added, as they get engrossed in the storytelling and fill in the props and scenery in their minds.

The program has been well-received by the senior community, Firehouse artistic director Kimm Wilkinson said. While the staff has long considered holding a workshop series for seniors, it wasn’t until recently that the theater was able to to receive some funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to help defray the costs.

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