MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- Earlier this summer, the eight Talented Wartburg Puppeteers, a group of 60- to 80-year-old registrants at the adult day care center at Wartburg, a senior services provider based in Westchester, put on the performance of their lives.
The seniors regaled their fellow day care registrants, assisted living residents, staff and family members with a lively 15-minute, multimedia puppet performance piece called “We Are Family.”
During the show, the puppeteers performed with physical gestures, dialogue and songs using rod puppets they designed and built themselves, interacting with a changing backdrop of animated scenes shown on a large projection screen, such as fish in a stream or the sun coming up.
“There was such pride of accomplishment and such acclaim from their peers. It was incredibly uplifting for them and for me,” said professional theater artist and puppeteer Josh Rice, a recent MFA graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and the creative spark behind the program.
Rice met weekly with the eight registrants over seven months, helping them to craft their own self-designed, self-built puppets and to name them (Silvermist, Lily and Albert, for example). During the weekly sessions, the elderly puppeteers honed their improvisational skills to always be “in the moment” and practiced the art of puppetry with its rhythmic swoops, nods and bobs.
The puppet class is part of a nationally recognized program at Wartburg called Creative Aging, which 500 seniors participate in at the assisted living, memory care, nursing homes and adult day care programs where they express themselves through art, song, theater, poetry and oral histories.
“The goal of Creative Aging is to promote greater emotional health, social engagement and lifelong learning for older adults, and the new puppet program exemplifies this goal,” said David Gentner, president and CEO of Wartburg.