Actor/director/teacher Nancy Gabor, 78, has devoted her life to theater. Now she’s sharing her wisdom with fellow seniors through teaching an acting class called “You’re Never Too Old to Play.”
Now in its third year, the three hour class meets weekly in the community room at Westbeth Artists Housing, in Manhattan’s West Village, where Gabor is a resident. The 23 current participants range in age from 60 to 95. The multi-cultural members come from all over New York City– the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, and even New Jersey.
Classes with a theater professional
Gabor received training as an actress at Carnegie Mellon and has directed more than 50 off Broadway productions, from new original plays to the classics. During her long career, Gabor worked as an actor/director at Ellen Stewart’s La Mama and directed Joseph Chaikin, the founder of The Open Theatre. Her relationship with Chaikin deepened after he had a stroke and they co-directed and taught together.
As an acting teacher, Gabor has worked for over 40 years at professional studios and universities, including at Princeton, Purchase Conservatory and conservatories in the Netherlands. “Teaching this class keeps me young, it keeps me happy, it keep me energized, it gives me a purpose,” said Gabor. “The class benefits seniors in so many ways. It’s like a family. Every body is so happy to see each other each Thursday. We have a lot of single people, a lot of people live alone, so the socialization benefits everybody.”
Research has proved that acting classes for seniors can improve memory, concentration and creativity. “I’m much more outgoing,” said Sharon Lucas, 77. “I used to be shy but interacting with people has opened me up to be more expressive in groups. My body feels healthier and more energized.”“The class has given me an optimistic outlook on life, ”said Sally Plass, 75. “Now I feel I can do things I did not think were possible, such as, telling my story.” “The class made me believe there is life until you die,” said Michael Ahmed, 74. “Nothing should stand in the way of my being creative. I discovered I have a lot more to say and do.”
How The Class Works
This acting class is all improvisation- no texts. The students do physical and vocal exercises, sound and movement improvisation, scene improvisation, storytelling and singing, based upon The Core Technique which was developed by Gabor. “The work is based upon personal contact with each other and playing from that place,” she explained.
Does Gabor adjust her teaching when working with seniors who are at different ability levels in terms of mobility and hearing? How does she deal with that? “We do have people who are deaf and two people who can’t move much,” said Gabor. “One of the other students is always there next to that person, to guide that person through the exercise. I don’t even have to ask. It just happens. There is such a sense of support and ensemble that it spills over into the problems. There are lots of experienced students now who are proficient and have gotten the discipline and training so they carry along the new people. You learn by being on the floor and doing it. If you muck it up, it’s fine. It’s all an exploration.”
Gabor, 78, is a prime example of aging with attitude, but what does that mean to her? “It means being alive, being present, being with people, living in the moment, and staying political,” she said.
Funding and Future Plans
The funding for the free acting workshop “You’re Never too Old to Play” currently comes from Pier 55, a music park slated to open on the Hudson River in 2021. The group is working to create a theater piece that can be performed there.
Photo: Nancy Gabor