The Bridge program partners middle school students with elders to create solo theater performances based on each other's lives.
Sometimes magic can spring from an unlikely pairing.
Harnessing that magic into incredible performances is the goal of SaraSolo Productions’ The Bridge program.
The program, now in its third year, connects older performers with students in the Visual Performing Arts program at Booker Middle School to create a piece of solo theater based on the other’s lives.
“It’s so wonderful because what happens is these two groups that generally tend to be marginalized and not always listened to have their stories come through,” said Carrie Mills, a drama and musical theater teacher. “The teens learn from and have enormous respect for the elders and all the things they can learn from a different generation.”
Volunteers from SaraSolo go on “speed dates” with the students, and then the students list with whom they most want to work.
SaraSolo Artistic Director Ann Morrison said it’s interesting to see the pairings each year because every pairing is always happy with their partner.
“It’s very serendipitous that way,” Morrison said. “It’s almost like magic, but of course it’s not. It’s just something that comes through with the partners, and it’s beautiful to watch the partnerships grow throughout the project.”
After partners are chosen, they begin personal interviews with each other. Booker students are asked to write a short three- to five-minute monologue based on their partner’s life, while the elders have more freedom to create a variety of pieces.
In the past, elders have written musical compositions, poems and short skits based on their students.
Carol Wolf, a volunteer elder with the program, said the interview process helps to create a bond between the pair.
“When I finished my interview, I felt like had been through therapy because I had been asked such deep questions,” Wolf said. “It blew me away and really made me think about where I was and how I had progressed from when I was a kid. It was wonderful.”
Kenny Jones, a seventh grade student in the program, said the program was challenging because he had never written a theater piece, so he had to rewrite his monologue several times to make it more expressive. However, he was happy with the end product.
“I was very excited to present my piece because it took a lot of time and work to create it, and I put it out there, and my elder really liked it,” Jones said.
Eighth grade student Ariyana Rivera, who was partnered with SaraSolo Managing Director Blake Walton, struggled more with the performance aspect.
“I like to write in my free time, so I felt pretty confident in what I wrote, but the acting part was hard for me because I’d never acted before,” Rivera said. “But Blake was so amazing because he made me very comfortable and confident, and my classmates helped me gain confidence in myself to perform.”
Typically, the groups meet for a performance evening in front of an audience. However, because of COVID-19, the participants this year created a video package.
Mills said the best part about the project is the opportunity for her students to learn from professionals in the fields they hope to someday pursue.
SaraSolo plans to continue the program next year and hopes to construct a manual to share with other educators to create similar programs at other schools.
Walton said the program has “immense value” because it creates a rare intergenerational connection.
“Younger kids are pushed aside, and older adults are relegated to the sidelines as they age, so this is a way to help both feel respected and heard and cared for,” Walton said.
Wolf, who has participated in the program twice, said the program and the performance pieces that come out of it create a lasting bond. She said she still keeps tabs on her students to see where they are going and support them in any way she can.
“There’s just nothing like it,” Wolf said. “There’s nothing like somebody dedicating something to you and hearing a piece of your life told by someone else. To me it’s remarkable and a bit life changing.”
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