On June 21, Senior Planet in Chelsea will host a new and provocative version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, King Lear. This soap-operatic tale of jealousy, sibling rivalry, love, betrayal, and ambition, with one of Shakespeare’s most compelling portraits of old age, will appear in a unique format, pared down – and with audience participation.
The two-hour King Lear Project (which will be live streamed, see below for details) is the brainchild of Brooklyn-based Theater of War Productions (learn more here), which specializes in adapting classical works to address current public health and social issues.
“King Lear asks the universal and age-old questions of our care givers,” says director, artistic director and company co-founder Bryan Doerries. “It’s about questions of dignity. This is a play about an older adult on the border of his faculties and the height of his power. It speaks to complex family dynamics.” (Doerries brings personal insight into the production, having lost his own father to dementia at age 66.)
About the production
The Project begins with a 35 minute reading of six direct, clean scenes that include Lear, his three daughters, their husbands and the Fool. Multiple actors play multiple characters. “Family drama is at the center of King Lear,” Doerries notes. “The characters are dealing with stress of the King needing their help. We wanted to be more sympathetic to the sisters. We are looking at the family dynamics through a certain lens and not judging the sisters. Doerries stresses that “The objective of the project is to have the audience interpret the play.”
The six scenes, performed as a reading with no costumes or sets, are merely the preface to the heart of The King Lear Project: audience discussions about the challenges of aging, dementia, and caring for loved ones. The play is a catalyst to guide the audience into opening up about difficult or taboo topics. After seeing that approach in other Theater of War Productions, Barbara J. Kelly, LMSW, Director of External Relations for OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) knew she had to bring it to Senior Planet.
“I’d never experienced a medium where an audience member then becomes a participant,” says Kelly. “I hope the Senior Planet audience will express their concerns, anxieties, and triumphs about care-giving and loss. These challenging situations can be isolating and lonely. Sharing and hearing other perspectives can offer opportunities for compassion and healing.”
After the reading, four or five (pre-selected) members of the audience will come to the table, replace the actors and describe what they felt. “We are reaching out to people, picking Senior Planet members who are care takers, trying to get as much variety as possible,” said Aaron Santis, Program Manager at Senior Planet Exploration Center.
After the audience-participants express their reactions, the director leads a candid, powerful hour-long discussion of how the play resonated with the audience. For instance, in a stressful situation where family members have conflicting emotions, Doerries notes, “Sometime the character of the Fool can represent the home health attendant, the person outside the family who can speak the truth.”
“My job is to democratize the conversation,” Doerries adds. “What does it require to be care givers? Correcting older adults and arguing and instructing is not the most productive way of caring for them.”
Note: The King Lear Project will take place at the Senior Planet Center in Chelsea on Friday, June 21, from 1pm-3pm.
Space is limited! Registration required, do it here.
This event will also be live-streamed on Senior Planet’s Youtube channel. Subscribe now!