Improv acting troupe bridges generation gap
Members act out a scene as part of Temple’s Full Circle intergenerational theater troupe, which uses improvisational performances as a teaching tool while helping to break down stereotypes that young and old might have about each other.
It doesn’t seem likely that a mother of 10 children, a former insurance broker, a retired teacher and a high school student would have much in common.
But for more than 20 years a Temple program has brought people just like this together, while at the same helping to bridge the age gap through a shared interest — improvisational acting.
Full Circle Theater Troupe is an intergenerational improvisation group at Temple’s Center for Intergenerational Learning that specializes in enhancing the nature of age relations and dispelling age-related myths.
“What really makes [improvisational acting] so unique as an educational tool is its ability to reach audiences of all ages and encourage change,” said 97-year-old retired radio personality Nate Lazowick.
The troupe performs at schools, senior centers, community organizations, conferences and workshops in the Philadelphia area and across the state, addressing the concerns of audiences.
Alzheimer’s disease, racism, public health, positive health choices, family relations and sexuality are among the issues the ensemble dramatizes.
The theater group tailors each performance according to the issue the client wants to address and brainstorms scenes that will get the audience involved.
One of the goals of the program is to increase understanding between older people and teenagers by sensitizing both age groups to issues they have in common as well as those that have potential for conflict, said Marilyn Wood, Full Circle’s managing director.
The troupe, which prides itself on its age diversity, accepts actors as young as 14.
“This is an attempt to reduce elders’ fear of teenagers by enhancing their understanding of the needs, values and experiences of today’s youth and to educate young people about the aging process,” Wood explained.
Gonzalez said he originally joined the group because he wanted to find an outlet for his creativity, but the experience in the troupe has been beneficial in other ways as well.
“[Being a member of Full Circle] has really opened my eyes to the stereotypes we assign to older people,” the high school sophomore said. “I’ve seen that no matter what age people are, we are able to have fun together.”
To become a member of the theater group, volunteers participate in an eight-week training class to learn acting techniques, including socio-drama, playback theater and comedy improvisation.
Although the group focuses on acting skills to bring its message to the community, many members say the decision to stay involved year after year has to do with the bonds they build with each other.
The troupe is multicultural, as well as intergenerational. The actors are placed in an atmosphere with different opinions and viewpoints they might have never thought about before, said 75-year-old member Jinny Day.
Members are not the only benefactors of Full Circle; Temple has gained some recognition for its involvement with the program since 1983.
“Another great thing about this troupe is that it gets the Temple name out there in the community and creates some positive relationships,” Wood said.
Full Circle, which performs under contract with organizations that pay a service fee, keeps its actors very busy, performing up to 10 times a month.
Full Circle actors are paid small volunteer stipends, with most of the money contributing to maintaining the troupe, Wood explained.
“The troupe has benefits on multiple levels,” Wood said. “The young actors really enjoy the improvisation experience and love interacting with the older adults. The ‘seasoned’ actors say it helps them forget about the pains of getting older.”
Dick Brown, 70, who has been a member of the troupe for 10 years, commends the program for keeping him physically fit and giving him the ability to maintain an open mind.
“Interacting with all these diverse people from different age groups helps me keep in touch with the younger generation and understand their perspective a little better,” Brown said. “The audience enjoys our performances because they can tell that we are truly having a good time.”
“This troupe is like a big family; we just don’t look alike,” Day said, laughing.
The center is also trying a new program this year, in which adults over 60 years of age will act as environmental health coaches.
“[With these new programs] Full Circle is trying to seek partnerships with other Temple groups to help disseminate important research findings to communities that need the information,” Wood said.
For more information about performance times or how to get involved, visit Full Circle’s Web site at www.temple.edu/cil/fct.
- By Karen Shuey