INTERACT-A Cross Generational Theater Class of Seniors & Teens

NOTE: About ten years ago I read the amazing book “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher.  Her talk of mixing cross generational communities  with one another placed a seed in my brain that I have been carrying about this past decade.  With some of the new changes and energies of Hope 2.0, I felt it was time to give this idea a chance and thus INTERACT was born: a theater class for Seniors and Teens.  Thankfully Amy Buchanan, one of my theater teachers for HSK (Hope Stone Kids) agreed to try this idea out with me, and so this fall we embarked on a semester worth of classes, and the results have been beyond my wildest dreams.  I decided to ask Rebekah (writer) and Teagan (photographer) sisters & teen students in the class, to write and capture their thoughts on the class for Hope Stone, Inc. through pen and lens. Their beautiful work is below.   INTERACT is part of our newest program THE HOPE PROJECT, in which we are working with other populations, aside from our children & youth focus, such as the elderly, homeless, and returning veterans.  It has been a joy to behold.

Jane Weiner, President & CEO, Hope Stone, Inc.

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This past April my mom forwarded an email to me from Hope Stone, like she has done so many times before. Thinking it was perhaps information about our upcoming show or a reminder of Tech Week dates, I casually began to read the announcement of Hope Stone’s imminent closing. When I got to the end of the email, I rapidly texted my mom and sister, demanding to know if I had really understood it correctly, and unfortunately, I had. The idea that my four year journey with them would be coming to an end was devastating, and that effect was no doubt felt by every other member of Hope Stone, if not stronger. The next few classes and especially the day of our performance were tear-filled and haunted by the fear that the community, the family that we had all come to find in Hope Stone had ended forever.

But over the summer, another forwarded email showed up in my inbox. It was an invitation from Jane Weiner for me to participate in a senior and teenager theater class led by our lovely teacher, Amy Buchanan. At first I was hesitant. I had fixed my mind on the idea that Hope Stone was no longer a relevant part of my life and had not incorporated it into my idea of what the next school year would look like, so when my mom signed me up for the class, I was both nervous and frustrated. I was going into what I had heard was one of the hardest years of high school, and I had decided to start going to a martial arts class for the first time. But one of the biggest intimidating factors was that we would be taking the class with senior citizens, a demographic I think most people my age aren’t commonly exposed to.

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However, when I arrived in class the first day, familiar friends from the Teen theater class and others I recognized from previous years greeted me. We got to the room we have our classes in and everyone was seated in a circle, so we dispersed ourselves so that everyone sat next to someone new. We introduced ourselves to the group with an exercise and all recited lines from Shakespeare, and we interacted with each other in ways both familiar to me from my previous Hope Stone classes and unique to our new community. Amy dubbed one of the seniors, Annie, Queen for the day, and for the entirety of the class we addressed her as Queen Annie. When it was time to leave, I was hugged by at least two seniors that I hadn’t talked to yet and they genuinely thanked me for coming. I was surprised by the forwardness of their appreciation and lack of bashfulness during class, traits you don’t see very commonly in teenagers, and when I got in the car to go home, I was smiling and ready to come back the next week.

During the first few weeks of our class, Amy and Rebecca led us through exercises exploring the use of our bodies and voices for storytelling and what that looks like when used effectively. Some of the exercises I recognized, like passing an object like a cup around the circle and naming a drink before passing it on, and others were new to me, like forming an imaginary ball and then throwing it to another person who changes the size, shape, and weight of the ball. Even with the exercises I know, the dynamics of them are changed by both the size of our group and the age. For example, passing around the cup took longer than it did with our previously smaller teens class, but some seniors threw in more mature answers than any of the teenagers would have dared to give, making it all that more fun and exciting.

While our senior and teen class may not have the same structure as our all-teenage class did, it’s just as rewarding and special. Now when I walk into class, I am immediately greeted by smiles, a refreshing sight after a long day of school. Being able to watch the seniors brighten when it’s their turn to respond to a prompt is something I’m grateful to be able to witness. It’s strange to think that earlier this year I was planning ahead without Hope Stone in the picture, and now it’s come back as a central part of my life like it never left. Thank you for providing so many people with so much, Hope Stone, and may it be a long time before you stop.

~Rebekah Ashworth

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all photos by Teagan Asworth