Don't Forget Theatre Company to tell the stories of older Londoners

Local thespian Harry Edison is excited about his new gig as the facilitator to oversee the growth and development of newly created not-for-profit Don't Forget Theatre Company.

"I've been hired by ATN through the Job Creation Program at EI to develop a theatre program for seniors and eventually incorporate other age groups to bring their stories to life," says Edison. "My role is to help facilitate creating a play or play from the perspective of the seniors in our community.  I will assist with writing, directing, and all other aspects that our seniors and other volunteers  want to participate in.  I’m kind of like the jack of all trades along with my co-worker Stef Flanagan, a recent Fanshawe College graduate.  We’ll oversee the project and give guidance where necessary and allow our volunteers to learn the parts of theatre that they want to learn."

The company is the brainchild of local seniors advocate and arts entrepreneur, Kathy Smith, who is currently organizing the inaugural Creative Age London Festival to be held in various venues and parts of the city May 23 to 25, 2014.

"Three years ago, I developed a concept for a seniors' theatre project involving those who are experiencing some type of dementia. A play would also be written to inform the community about the symptoms of early onset dementia and Alzheimer's disease," says Smith. "We also know there's normal memory loss involved in the aging process. Some of our own experiences due to forgetfulness are well - downright funny. The strategies seniors develop to cope with forgetfulness are very creative. That's how the name Don't Forget Theatre Company came about."

Edison says while it is still early days for the project, he has some definite goals for what he would like to accomplish, and he has the skills-set, resources and contacts within the local theatre community to work towards achieving them.

"We are just in the initial planning stage for the project. There is room for all kinds of evolution as we progress. We want the group to be able to adapt to what the consensus would like it to be. We’re trying to keep an open mind about it, so that we can guide people to do tasks that they’ve always wanted to do," says Edison. "We are just starting to sign up seniors here at the drop in centre.  From there, we’ll meet and have a forum on what our skill sets are, what we can teach them and find out what people would like to contribute to the program and what they would like to get out of it."

Although he has only been on the job for a week, Edison has set up a Facebook Page and Twitter account for Don't Forget Theatre Company and he has already met with Jamie Dunsdon, the Apprentice Artistic Director at the Grand Theatre, who has also been working with Seniors in the community to tell their stories.  Stories from local seniors are already being gathered by The Seniors Story Project which is being run out of the company's home-base at the Tanys Quesnel Living Learning Centre, under the guidance of local story-teller Vince McNeil. Stories can be read and heard at  http://storyproject.ca/listen-to-the-stories/

Edison is well aware of the size and influence of the demographic Don't Forget Theatre Company will be serving. "It's huge! That’s the joy of this project. There are stories and experiences that we can write and perform for years to come," he says.

Working with other community organizations and agencies that deal with older Londoners is something Edison is looking forward to doing.

"I don’t think there can or needs to be a single voice or organization that represents this group of people.  The more we cooperate, the better it is for the entire community.  And all ages, not just seniors.  We’re not in competition with anyone, we just want to be another creative outlet for a community to have a voice," says Edison.

Edison admits that older Londoners sometimes get pushed to the sidelines and ignored with the City's apparent obsession with catering to the needs of youth. He hopes that programs and projects like Creative Age London and Don't Forget Theatre Company will help change that.

"I’m really excited about the opportunities that this project presents. Throughout my theatre career I’ve had the opportunity to learn from seniors in the community and there is a lot of potential for creativity and awareness of a segment of our city," he says.

Kathy Smith concurs, "I'm excited to see how the ATN seniors' project will evolve as seniors provide more input and share their stories through The Seniors Story Project. It sounds like a great project!"

To learn more about the Don't Forget Theatre Company, LIKE its Facebook page and follow it on Twitter .

To learn more about The Seniors Story Project, visit www.storyproject.ca.

To learn more about Creative Age London, LIKE its Facebook page and follow it on Twitter . Website coming soon at www.creativeagelondon.ca.

Richard Young is the publisher/online editor of The Beat Magazine Online. He is a member of the Creative Age London Steering Committee and he looks forward to the inaugural three-day Creative London Festival, May 23-25, 2014.