Each summer I attend an intergenerational theater program at the Inn on Westport Retirement Community in South Dakota. On the final day, I love standing behind the curtain with the other performers, waiting for the show to begin. Some performers ride in wheelchairs, some walk, and some use walkers or canes, but we all work together to make the show a success. Although I enjoy performing on stage, my favorite part of the program is meeting all my amazing fellow actors and actresses.
During the week-long program, students between the ages of six and 18 rehearse a theater production with senior citizens who live at the residential home. At the end of the week, the students and seniors perform the musical for members of the community. Although memorizing lines, songs, and choreography in just one week is challenging, it’s also fun. I love attending rehearsals, and I like talking with the residents when I’m not on stage. Some teenagers might be hesitant to spend a week at a retirement center, but I think that working with older individuals can be extremely rewarding. They all have unique stories and experiences to share, and I enjoy learning from them.
I love the community at the Inn on Westport. Even the residents who don’t act in the musical still sit in the audience during rehearsals to cheer us on. The residents always have big smiles on their faces when the students arrive each morning. Last summer, one of the seniors sat outside the rehearsal space and announced, “The actors are here!” each day.
My favorite part of the week happens on Friday, when everyone gets dressed up in their costumes for the first time. I always smile when the cast members emerge from the dressing room, their costumes and makeup transforming them into pirates, princesses, and animals. Before we know it, we’re sitting backstage, wishing one another good luck before the performance begins.
I’ve always believed that theater is magical. The audience and the actors use their imaginations to take a journey to a different time and place. They might laugh, cry, or sing a few songs along the way, and both the actors and the audience have a special experience. To me, intergenerational theater is even more special. Every summer I’m proud that people of different generations can come together to create a performance for the community. When I hear the audience laughing and singing along, I know we’ve accomplished our goal.
After participating in intergenerational theater for three summers, I’ve gained more confidence in myself. The residents enjoy interacting with kids and teens, and I know that I can brighten their day by spending time with them during rehearsal. The best part of the program is the relationships I’ve built with the senior citizens. While working on the show, the entire cast becomes a family. I love watching the little moments that take place every day during rehearsal: elementary-schoolers pushing seniors in wheelchairs, older actors helping teens memorize their lines, and six-year-olds and 80-year-olds singing together. I’ve built special bonds with many of the Inn on Westport residents, and I look forward to seeing them every summer.
I would strongly recommend this program to other teens. The Goodman Group hosts intergenerational theater programs at dozens of different retirement communities all across the country. Previous theater experience is not required, and this program is a great way to get involved in theater and build friendships with both senior citizens and other students. I will always cherish the memories I’ve made at the Inn on Westport, and I can’t wait to go back again next summer.