New Play Highlights Challenges and Joys of Ottawa Seniors

Burning Passions Theatre, in partnership with the Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, will premiere a new play about the lives of Ottawa seniors with four performances on June 3 and 5 (2 pm and 7:30 pm each day).

A Circle of Care, penned by Artistic Producer Laurel Smith based on input from the Seniors Sharing Stories theatre troupe, follows a group of seniors as they deal with the obstacles of financial insecurity, an under-resourced health and social service sector, and a lack of societal understanding, all while discovering joy in everything from bingo nights to finding new love after loss.

The hour-long play will include a talkback session where audience members can ask questions of the senior performers. All performances take place in the wheelchair accessible second floor drama room of the Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre (the former Rideau High School) at 815 St. Laurent Blvd.

“Seniors are an invisible part of our population. We don’t often hear what their lives are really about, apart from the stereotypes served up in media caricatures,” explains Smith. “With this project, we’ve worked directly with elder community members, who have identified their concerns and shared a lot of personal stories that deserve a much bigger audience. A Circle of Care is one step towards lifting the cone of silence on a significant part of our population.”

Indeed, problems faced by Ottawa’s 132,000 low-income seniors are well-documented. A review of Ottawa’s Older Adult Plan (OAP 2019-2022) found: “While seniors face many challenges as they age, some contributing factors such as low income and living alone are most commonly associated with an increase in vulnerability and, in turn, a heightened risk of poor health outcomes. Some groups, such as senior women, LGBTQ seniors, Indigenous seniors, newcomer seniors and seniors with disabilities, are more isolated and vulnerable to poor outcomes than the rest of the population.”

Smith notes that much research documents the pro-social benefits of involving seniors in the arts, resulting in improved cognition and moods, more positive outlooks, better quality of life, and fewer medical issues arising from isolation and depression.

“We see this training project as an opportunity to build in protective care factors through the process of group work, education, outreach, and artistic creation for participants and audiences alike,” Smith says. “Modeling active, engaged seniors naming and overcoming their challenges through a theatre piece has ripple effects among peers.  We see the potential to engage larger groups of seniors with important messaging, building back self-esteem, empowering marginalized voices, promoting healthy and active elder years, and encouraging mutual aid networks that can tackle the obstacles that seniors face.”

In Ottawa, 17% of residents are 65+, 30% are 55+, and there are shockingly high levels of senior poverty in pockets of the city (United Way Ottawa reports senior poverty levels at 27.2% in Hintonburg, 24.9% in Vanier South, 18.7% in Herongate, 18.5% in Centretown).  For over 25 years, Burning Passions Theatre has led community-engaged arts projects in rural and urban areas with diverse communities, addressing social issues through theatre, dance and song. Among those projects are a touring group of “at-risk” teens in Lanark County addressing depression, suicide, youth homelessness, and gender identity; working with elementary students on projects involving economic inequality; and staged play readings with communities facing racial profiling. This work runs alongside the theatre company’s professional theatre activities, including productions (having staged the Classic Theatre Festival from 2010 to 2022), and new work development for Ottawa playwrights.

“We were oversubscribed when we announced we were looking for seniors to join this project, which tells us there’s a real need out there,” Smith says. “We’ve been blessed to work with folks who may never have been a part of a play, but who are learning new skills, sharing wonderful insights, and putting their all into a project in which they feel wholly invested. It’s been a joy working with them. We look forward to expanding this project in the future, by touring to community centres, high schools, and long-term care homes.”

Tickets are pay what you can and available at https://bptheatre.ca or at the door.


Laurel Smith, Artistic Producer
Matthew Behrens, Associate Producer

 

Link to full article: https://bptheatre.ca/