Seniors: Theater And Art Workshops Help Seniors Age Artfully

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Senior issues

“Artful Aging” will be taught at the Chatham Council On Aging by artist Gail Tilton.


Mastering techniques of theater and art as a way of aging artfully is the aim of two new free courses at the Chatham Council On Aging (COA) this spring.

“The World’s a Stage,” a drama workshop series and “Artful Aging” art classes will both begin later this month.

“Seniors have to use their creativity and imagination more because of limitations life and fate impose on us,” says Elsa Bastone of Chatham, who will lead the drama workshop series. “At every stage we have to reinvent ourselves.”

For some people, growing older may be a frightening process. Theater can help people age “artfully” because stepping into a role brings you outside of yourself and into the world of another person, Bastone says.

Bastone, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and before her retirement worked at Veterans Administration hospitals, once led group therapy for schizophrenics. After the session, one woman told Bastone that the group was “fun and makes her forget herself. It was one of the best things I ever heard,” Bastone says. “To be somebody other than yourself—it’s the tops. Actors should be the healthiest people in the world—they get to express every emotion.”

Bastone has been engaged with the theater for most of her life. In this workshop, “everyone gets a chance to do something or at least work on something,” she says. “Creativity and experience does not end as you age. Maybe it even grows.” The group will read plays and poetry aloud. One person who has already signed up for the class has written a play that the group will read. Bastone emphasized that no prior experience in theater is required.

“I’m thrilled,” Bastone says about leading the workshop, her first at the COA. In the past she has directed plays at the former Chatham High School, including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 2006. She also directed “Sylvia” and other shows at the Chatham Drama Guild. She serves on the board of the Monomoy Theater where she has had small roles.

“It’s been my lifelong avocation and used in my vocation,” she says of theater. “I love directing—I experience all the roles with everyone.”

The “Drama Workshop Series: The World’s a Stage” will meet for six sessions from Wednesday, April 25 through May 30 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Space is limited to 12. The class is free.

In “Artful Aging—Art Classes” artist Gail Tilton of Chatham will approach artful aging from another angle. Students will use a potpourri of techniques and skills to create what Tilton calls a “wellness toolbox.” The techniques will include collage, photography, dance, movement, journaling, poetry, humor and more. No art experience is necessary. The group, which is limited to 10, will discuss concerns of aging then develop personalized art journals.

“We will be using art materials but also using tools we can use to make the process more artful,” Tilton says. “Everyone can take from this whatever appeals to them. My goal is to experience as many different things as we can. A little of this, a little of that, tied together with the theme of aging.”

The free class is sponsored through a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Chatham Cultural Council.

In one exercise, the group will work with materials such as pastels, colored pencils and markers while listening to music. “The idea will be when someone is listening to sound, what images, colors should go with that?” Tilton says.

For some people, writing might be the way they prefer to express these feelings. Still others may work best with collage.

“It’s a real broad overview of using art techniques as well as life techniques to calm down anxiety,” Tilton says. “It’s an opportunity to share and hear others experience the same feeling.”

Each week will be tied to the next through the creation of a life-size scroll. Working in partners, each person will trace his or her partner onto the scroll. Over the course of several weeks a person’s writings and drawings will be transferred onto the six-by-15 foot scroll. This will be shared with the wider COA community during a June 4 luncheon. “Camaraderie in the group is one of the big things,” Tilton says.

Tilton, who has been trained in expressive art therapy and energy healing, has been running the group Crafty Chics for 12 years at the Chatham Community Center. She has always excelled at crafts, decorative painting and folk art.

“Artful Aging Art Classes” will meet for four sessions on Tuesday, April 17, May 1, May 8 and May 22 from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A fifth session will be a luncheon on June 4. Registration is required as space is limited to 10. The class is free.

Transportation is available for both programs. For more information or to register, call the COA at 508-945-5190.