GeriActors and Friends at ELLA

Yesterday the GeriActors had the honour of performing a section of “We Decide When” at the lunch feature of ELLA.

ELLA, which stands for Edmonton Lifelong Learning Association is an annual conference for seniors as a part of the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension. This three week event features courses in a broad range of topics such as photography, biology of the immune system, mathematics or watercolor technique. Seniors are able to sign up for as many or as few courses as they would like.

For more information about ELLA visit their website:

Many of the GeriActors take part in this event, as ELLA shares the same belief that creativity and lifelong learning is the gateway to healthy aging.

The event started with a speech made by our artistic director, David Barnet. It featured a description of our process, the intergenerational course and a series of exercises by the GeriActors.

Here were some highlights from the events.

“Never say anything you don’t want to be put into a play”

“Don’t shoot it down (online dating) until you’ve tried it David!”

“Every year at ELLA I feel a bit younger, that play made me feel even younger, something no medication can ever make me feel.”

“Laughter is our form of the handshake, it’s our way of showing that we are all equal.”

“Peaches! Kelowna Peaches!” (describing her favorite food)


Standing beside Liz (left) is Therezinha Kennedy (right), local poet, a former GeriActors and now world traveler. She will be travelling the Himalayas next year.







Creating Theatre without Tech

We usually perform in non-conventional theatre spaces: seniors homes, libraries, even outside in a park. Which means our performances have little to no technical requirements so that we can perform pretty much anywhere, we can open up our Tupperware of costumes and props and be ready to perform. In fact, we prefer this.

Here’s why. When we lose reliance on lights and sound to assist in transitions, evoking a moment or location or even to signal the end of the play, the actors work a lot harder to create the world of the play for the audience. The convention of the fourth wall no longer exists because the actors need to walk the audience through the story. This creates a more open performance which allows the actors to have a conversation with the audience through their performance.

So how do a group of intergenerational actors evoke a train collision in Leicester, England in 1950? Well first, the text needs to be incredible precise. The words evoke the world, the stakes of the situation and includes essential details of the situation and minute details to personalize it. Second, because we’ve created the convention of “minimalist theatre”, the audience is now primed to use their imagination. Suddenly a group of four actors linked hand in hand making “choo-choo” sounds becomes a light engine. In fact, the audience rarely ever questions it. Lastly, when a storyteller creates a sound from memory, there is a quality of authenticity that can’t quite be captured by a sound clip. “I remember the train made this deafening SCREEEEEEEEEECH sound from the brakes before the huge BANG when the train crashed.” The actor verbalizing the sound isn’t quite as accurate to the actual sound, but it is more evocative, causing the audience to personalize the sounds in their minds.

In the end, though we may not have the dramatic qualities of a blackout or the immersive qualities of a recorded soundscape. We have found that our bodies and voices have a way of presenting the story in a more open and uniquely authentic way. With the added advantage that it saves us a pretty penny as well…

Here are a couple sounds we are exploring for our “Trains We Remember” play this year.

  1. This is the sound of a fire engine during the Blitz
  2. This is the sound of a steam train leaving:

Next week, the GeriActors will be performing in Delburne, Alberta. Stay tuned to see what we were up to there!

From Story to Play

Many of our plays are inspired by real stories from our seniors, but how do we further develop them into script and performances? It starts with an image.

From hearing the story, the facilitators or directors begin to envision an image in their minds. The director will then take any available bodies in the room to begin sculpting the image they see. Layers of details such as sounds, mood and environment are then added to create a physical picture of the once verbal story.

As it develops, the story in some ways becomes less personal and more universal. Members of the cast begin to find ways to make the story their own: developing characters, depicting their understandings of the experience while honouring the essence of the original story. There is usually a narrator that takes everyone on the journey, but sometimes we discover that its more effective to have multiple narrators.

This blog will highlight some of the research involved in developing our current work-in-progress play: Trains.

One of our story takes place in Finsbury Park Train station during the Second World War in London.


The air raids prompted a siren to alert Londoners to go into the tunnels. There was another siren alerting the citizens it was safe to come out again. Here is a clip of the two sounds. We would mimic these original sounds with an actor’s voice.

When the raids were over, this is awaited Londoners outside. How would you evoke this with a group of intergenerational actors?

Thoughts from a Friend.

Editor’s Note: We had the pleasure of having Kandis Gilks join us as a friend last semester. Here are a few thoughts she had about Intergenerational Theatre.

Intergenerational theatre is complied of many, many things. Willingness to take risks and challenge personal perspective, filling the room with the raw truth whatever that truth may bring, working together to discover the small ‘ah ha’ moments with our pieces… These things are what creates genuine theatre art. The stories and experiences that each of us, Geri or Friend, bring to the work space is beautiful in that they support the common ground we walk on: the passion to present the real.

Drama is a process. It is forever growing and developing, changing and progressing. The process will thrive on patience, passion and commitment to creating pieces that are sincere because they come straight from the soul. It is absolutely necessary to understand that drama is a discovery process. We discover things we knew but did not necessarily knew we know. Our stories were a part of us, but are now even more deeply embedded into our every word, line, phrase, and movement. It all becomes necessary. The sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste that had existed once before now comes rushing back to the storyteller in an overwhelming wave of sensory that those listening can too soak up all the story has to offer.

We all come together with different backgrounds and opinions but this is what brings us even closer. Listening to one another and supporting each persons history is what makes community theatre so alive and tangible. We do not all have to be the same and believe the same things in order to create something great; it is our diversity that makes us exceptional. Each individual is valued and an instrumental part to the GeriActors and Friends because our variety in vocal tone, physical mobility and artistic expression all contributes to our successful story sharing with society as a whole.

Nothing is wrong or bad within theatre; this is what I have learned from the Geri’s. Whatever you decide to do or say you must do with your entire heart and be true to yourself. If something does not work, you accept it and look at the why’s and how’s it did not work, not the story itself. Every piece is in constant review because as we change and grow, our message could alter as well therefore the need to be accepting and patient is so incredibly great. By being able to accept yourself and others, you then are able to accept the magic that will come from being a part of the GeriActors and Friends.

Artist Bio: 

Kandis is in her fourth year of BEd at the University of Alberta and am loving every moment of it! She is constantly keeping busy with taking various courses of interest and becoming more involved with mindfulness. Kandis is excited to graduate from university and take her knowledge of intergenerational theatre wherever life takes her!


Lessons observing great facilitators.

     I have spent the last few years observing some great teachers facilitate workshops. Various people from a variety of disciplines and interests with the same goal: to create a framework in which their participants can evoke or create ideas or material. After reflecting on their teaching, I have found two things these teachers all have in common: patience and listening capacities. During my time spent with the GeriActors and Friends, I had the opportunity to witness Stuart Kandall, Shula Strassfeld, David Barnet and numerous students and guest artists who have worked with us throughout the years. This is a reflection of some incredible facilitation I have been experienced.

     The concept of patience is more than the willingness to wait, but also the willingness to speed things up if necessary. To be patient with your students when their pace hasn’t matched your trajectory or with yourself if your pace isn’t on par with your students. The willingness to break away from plan and humbly say, “I’m not entirely sure where to go next” and be able to follow your impulses or check in with your students what the next course of action should be.

During a drama exercise called “When I open my door, I see…”, the participants are meant to be able to imagine a place of significance to themselves and be able to share a story about this place. The facilitator must choose their pace and words very carefully to evoke the imagery of the door. What it looks like, the texture of the door, the age, the size, the smell, anything necessary to evoke this door for the participant. The next step would be to evoke the physicalization of feeling the door knob and opening the door. This imagery is absolutely necessary for the participant to enter this organic imaginative world. The next step is absolutely crucial, one must give time for the participant to breathe and discover the actual place. They usually come in fragments, one detail at a time.

     The patience comes when the facilitator must demonstrate this exercise in the beginning, to have the patience to not artificially choose something, but to be able to slow down and live the actual experience. To frame the exercise that way allows any kind of possibility and the ability to experience it with the student.  When the participants have finally opened the door, to have the patience to allow them to discover the place. To be able to ask exactly the right questions to prompt specific details: the geography of everything, the little details of their location, etc. When they have finally discovered their place, providing them the language to describe while giving them complete freedom to say anything they’d like.

The patience goes hand in hand with a facilitator’s capacity to listen to where their participants are at. Simple clues such as whether they are breathing, their capabilities, their energy, comfort, interest or engagement levels provide you imperative information to what your next step should be. That fine tuned ear is something that can only come with practice and observing great masters at this craft.

I had the great honour of witnessing Shula Strassfeld facilitate one of Dance Exchange’s signature improv duet exercises “1-10”. In this exercise, one person begins by creating a shape with their body, once they have found that shape they will say “one”. The second person will respond by creating a second shape and saying “two”. This continues until the partners reach ten.

     The beauty of this exercise is that the possibilities are limitless. You could add certain restrictions or factors to focus on. For example, you could ask everyone to play with the possibilities of space and contact or to only create movements that are abstract or pedestrian. It takes someone with a very keen ear and eye to read where everyone’s bodies and potentials lie. If someone is insecure about moving in front of an audience, you may have two groups perform at the same time instead. This way the student is still dancing and learning essential dance improv skills while learning that dancing in front of an audience isn’t that scary at all.

     I think what makes these experiences so interesting and challenging at the same time is that the skill of facilitation can only be achieved by practicing and witnessing masters of the craft. Much of the work comes from intuition and intuition cannot be learned but practiced. It makes for an exciting endless journey of constant observing, reflecting and practice.

Our January Beginning.

It’s our first day back from the Holiday break.

     As we ease our way back into the rehearsal room, warming ourselves up with familiar exercises: Martha, One to Ten, Ta-Da-Da, and of course, sharing stories, we begin to get back into the swing of things.
     Today was also the start of many new exciting things. Sherry Smith, one of the graduates of David’s Intergenerational Theatre Class began the rehearsal with an incredible 15 minute vocal warm up. Stayed tune as Sherry will be starting an 8 week vocal research/intensive with the seniors on how vocal exercises can rehabilitate the aging voice. January will also be the start a movement residency with local choreographer Amber Borotsik and Music improviser Karen Porkka. Of course, we will be building a play to tour for our performance season starting in March. We have a busy start of 2016.
     To end this blog off, I wanted to share this poem. It was found by our friend and vocal expert Sherry Smith.

I am not old

I am not old, she said
I am rare

I am the standing ovation
at the end of the play

I am the retrospective
of my life
as art

I am the hours
connected like dots
into good sense

I am the fullness
of existing

you think I am waiting to die
but I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure
I am a map
these wrinkles are imprints
of my journey

ask me