WESTFIELD, NJ – Residents of senior living community Sunrise of Westfield recently took part in a playwriting residency conducted by Premiere Stages, the professional theater company in residence at Kean University. The residency was funded by the Westfield Foundation. The program was the third Premiere Stages pilot to be funded by the Westfield Foundation, which also funded Camp Premiere for high school students and Liberty Live, which is entering its third year.
The eight-week residency program incorporated professional artists, who assisted seniors in creating original works for the stage.
“The aim of the residency is to provide creative engagement and fulfillment to seniors while honoring and celebrating their legacies,” said John Wooten, producing artistic director of Premiere Stages and leader of the residency.
Premiere Stages’ residency creatively engaged participants while simultaneously documenting and preserving family histories and memories through dramatic narratives. The program concluded with a showcase of individual histories, demonstrated by both Kean students and professional actors, which was presented to Sunrise of Westfield residents and their families on May 7.
“I gave them my life story,” said Sunrise resident Louise Doren. “They acted out the first night that I met my husband. It gave me a chance to look back on my life, and it was fun thinking about it. We all put our heart and souls into our plays and I realized that we all have stories to tell.”
Christine Harris, the activities and volunteer coordinator at Sunrise of Westfield, the founder of a weekly drama club for the residents, initially contacted Premiere Stages in hopes of creating a program for the Sunrise seniors to express their creativity and also to raise their appreciation for theater. Due to its success, the playwriting residency will return to Sunrise of Westfield for as long as the Westfield Foundation continues to fund the program.