How Elders’ Theatre Workshops Can Benefit Senior Citizens
Elders’ Theatre is a unique concept that can offer several health and social benefits for senior citizens. Vijay Padaki and Vijji Chari of Bangalore Little Theatre Foundation aim to introduce the idea here.
Theatre is not an alien term for many senior citizens but a theatre workshop specifically designed for them is still a rarity in India. Elder’s theatre as a concept and form of drama designed specifically for older adults is popular overseas, with Wikipedia mentioning over 800 groups around the world. The techniques used in Elders’ Theatre involve storytelling, theatre games and other exercises and as Vijay Padaki, who along with corporate trainer and storyteller Vijji Chari is working towards introducing the concept in India puts it, is certainly more of a doing process rather than instructional. It involves elementary body management techniques such as breathing, diaphragm use, relaxation and simple folk dancing as well.
While being connected to a fairly established elder’s theatre program in Portland, US, Padaki realised that there was a lack of any such initiative here in India and decided to launch a pilot project. Padaki’s name needs no introduction in Bangalore’s theatre circle. A clinical psychologist and behavioural scientist by training, he has been active in theatre for over 55 years and is a founder member of Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT). He has teamed up with Vijji Chari, who has over 16 years of experience in Leadership Development. Trained in theatre based facilitation, Chari has designed and run theatre based workshops on areas such as handling power, diversity and inclusion and collaborative leadership. She also runs an initiative called By the River, that takes the joy of storytelling to adults.
The duo plan to launch an Elder’s Theatre Program for interested senior citizens of Bangalore as part of their community reach out. The Eight session program will have theatre based activities for, by and with elders. The aim of the program is to address issues both Padaki and Chari often observed about the senior citizens around them. “We see senior citizens giving up on their bodies, feeling that since we are older, this is all we can do. There is a sense of loneliness that also comes in. We wanted to change that and create a space that is fun; show that they are capable of so much more. We also wanted to create a sense of social bonding among the elderly,” she explains. Post the program. BLT would be happy to support a theatre-based performance that the participants would like to initiate for the community.
“If I can do certain things with body-mind-voice, why shouldn’t they?” That’s how Padaki, who’s in his 70s, puts it, though acknowledging that culturally it becomes difficult in India to open people’s minds towards programs such as this.
Elder’s Theatre & Its Benefits
The concept of elder’s theatre is simple, explains Padaki. “It’s the application of theatre methodology to a socially relevant area, similar to other applications, such as theatre in education, therapeutic theatre, theatre in community development, theatre in management, etc. The old saying may be recalled: Age is a state of the mind. Nowhere does this truism seem to apply more than in people’s attitudes to their bodies.
The Elders Theatre workshops mainly help elders discover what they are capable of and overcoming their psychological blocks, especially with regards to giving up on their bodies. Chari, who has conducted few Elders’ Theatre sessions at Chandrakiran, an apartment complex in Bangalore, says the benefits can be many from what she has observed. “It is super energising; The level of energy and visible action would have moved up several notches during the sessions; it is also wonderful to see the amount of laughter in the room and the lingering that happens afterwards. One of the biggest benefits of Elders’ Theatre, according to Padaki, is that it addresses good health and well being by influencing the mind via the body, personal growth by positive attitudes, questioning stereotypes of ageing and also gives senior citizens an avenue of arts appreciation.
Chari, who has always found a very positive response from senior citizens whenever she has held workshops was surprised by the outcome after holding a few sessions in an apartment in Bangalore, given the level of sharing and interactions that followed. “They (the group she worked with) were willing to expand their notion of what theatre is. I thought they would enjoy the storytelling theatre part more but they enjoyed the theatre games and were very active.”
It also helps to have Vijay Padaki, himself a senior citizen, coordinate an Elders’ Theatre workshop. “Vijay is one of the best facilitators I have experienced – and his skill is clearly seen in the way he connects to the audience and draws them in. He also is amazingly positive and non judgmental and that creates a sense of safety for participants to step out of their comfort zone,” Chari adds.
While she feels these aspects of his personality help him cut across diverse groups, the benefits show while working with elders. “Even before he starts to weave his magic – perhaps the participants feel “he is one of us” just by looking at him and he becomes the best role model given his own agility, spontaneity and sense of play – and that does create a safe space for participants to get in touch with their own spontaneity.”
This was obvious at an Elder’s Theatre introductory session Silver Talkies organised for members of Nightingale’s Elder’s Enrichment Centre in Bangalore with Padaki and Chari. Initially hesitant, the senior members gradually warmed up to the idea, participating in not just folk dance but also script reading sessions where they improvised their lines, using their body and voice. The idea is not to push anybody to participate but give them time to savour the experience and the space to engage at their pace and readiness. The result is usually magic. Chari sums it up perfectly. “The child in us is always there and our aim is to create a space where that child comes out.”
Age is no longer a limiting factor for many senior citizens. The retirement years open up many unexplored avenues for them and Elders’ Theatre could bring forth talents that have been lying low all these years. We hope more senior citizens experience the magic of Elder’s Theatre and the concept finds as much ground in India as it has in other countries.
Silver Talkies has partnered with Bangalore Little Theatre to introduce the concept of Elders’ Theatre to senior audiences across Bangalore as part of our social engagement initiative for the 60+. If you are part of a senior citizen community in an apartment or senior citizen’s group in Bangalore and wish to experience the magic of Elder’s Theatre, send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs courtesy: Bangalore Little Theatre