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Seniors’ theatrical participation enhances health

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“When I was in high school, I was self-conscious, so I never ‘did’ theater,” Jayne Sharrow of Dover-Foxcroft explained. “Since retirement in 2013, I’ve had small roles in some plays at Center Theater. Those positive experiences gave me confidence and added new dimensions to myself.”
“Theater participation keeps my mind active because I have to learn lines,” Sherman Cookson, a member of the Levi Stewart Theater Group, expressed enthusiastically. “Acting allows me to be someone I am not or, perhaps, someone I really am! There is nothing like the rush of hearing the audience applaud.”
Joni Slamm, an actress in the two theater companies in the area, confided that, “Theater work is a very therapeutic way to avoid isolation and depression, particularly during the dark, winter months. I love being on stage and working with others to bring pleasure to an audience! People involved in community theater are warm and supportive.”
Sharrow, Cookson and Slamm are some of the ever-growing number of seniors choosing theater to engage socially, physically, mentally and emotionally with other seniors as well as younger people who like to act, sing, dance and just have fun.
The Slightly Off-Center Players, housed at the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft and the Levi Stewart Theater Group, based in Corinna, are the two thespian companies in the Maine highlands. Both leaders of the theatrical groups report that 25 percent of those in their companies are senior citizens.
Patrick Myers, executive director of the Center Theatre, remarked, “One of my joys is seeing how the seniors and young people interact on stage. The younger kids learn from the older community mentors, and the seniors absorb the energy of the youth. Seniors benefit from the mental exercise, the social interaction, and the increased physical activity that a show demands.”
Gary Dorman, director of the Corinna players, explained, “Senior community participation is important. We work to make sure that plays are suitable for older participants. There are plenty of walk-on as well as speaking parts so that everyone can be involved.”
Both Dorman and Myers hold acting improvisation classes so that skills can be developed and improved. Classes are open to people of all ages.
Just as directors and theater participants have mentioned the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social benefits of senior theater participation, research studies by Tony and Helga Noice, PhDs, using standardized measures in 2009, found that senior theater classes improved word recall, problem solving, verbal fluency and delayed recall. Overall personal growth was also reported.
Dr. Eugene Cohen in his three-year research sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, reported a number of mental and physical positive impacts of the arts on senior health. Using standardized measures, he found art participants had fewer doctor visits, less medication usage, and a decline in falls. There was improvement in morale, a lessening of depression and a trend toward less loneliness.
Dr. Cohen’s 2006 conclusions concerning seniors’ participation in the arts “point toward health promotion and disease prevention effects.” Research showed that the performing arts of acting, singing, dancing and playing a musical instrument produce the best results.
Area community theaters can use people who enjoy working behind the scenes as well as those who like to be on stage. If you would like to reap the health benefits of theater participation, call Myers at the Center Theatre (564-8943) or Dorman in Corinna (416-5655) to find out how you can be a star!

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