Entering Athens: Getting to Know Our Cast

The first thing I noticed about the Abington Memory Fitness Center was the color scheme of the room. I had imagined it would be a shade of white with accents of soft blue, dull green, and gray. Instead, the walls were painted a light salmon color with a deep rusty accent. There also was a row of sinks against a long wall in the room, perhaps to make cleaning up after activities more convenient. It still struck me, though, because of all of the objects I imagined being in the room, not even one sink made it onto the list. Judging from my new physical surroundings, I knew that some surprises awaited me.

My fellow Shakespeare with Seniors classmates and I spent two hours with the people there, being guided through simple getting-to-know-you activities by our professor, Celeste Walker. The seniors were fun, but that wasn’t the surprising part. What was surprising to me was how quickly I could pick up on their personalities.

There were four seniors sitting in the chairs arranged in a circle for all of us to see each other. After we introduced ourselves with our names and an interesting personal fact, we each answered questions such as, “If you were a food, which food would you be?” and “If a movie were made about your life, which actor would play you?” While every answer from the seniors was different, that isn’t what made an impression on me.

What made them stand out as individuals was the things they’d say in between those answers and their body language. Lionel was the silliest man there, but not in a juvenile way. Grace was sweet and easygoing. Todd had the charm of a comedian and at times seemed much younger than he is. And, Morty still sat with the composure of a doctor and exuded a quiet friendliness. As we learned about each other’s  backgrounds and lived experiences, which included neuroscience and traveling the world, we also laughed together, which made me feel at ease.

The only moment of discomfort came when it was time to explain A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play we are going to rehearse and perform together at the center. Before arriving I knew that the play was complicated. Back at Arcadia, we had spent weeks familiarizing ourselves with the play, attempting to condense it and make it palatable for the seniors. But, in the moment, I realized just how complicated the story still was. MSND tells the tale of the troubled love of four young Athenians, the dilemmas of the fairies, and the affairs of the rude mechanicals, all wrapped into a single play.

Thankfully, Celeste, our professor, stepped in to help explain the first half of the play, fully aware that it could easily confuse or intimidate the seniors. They, however, were in good spirits. Todd even joked that he understood the play because he’d experienced something similar before. Of course, we wanted to hear the story. Perhaps there was forbidden love in his past? He laughed it off and left us to fill in the blanks.

When our time with the seniors was up, I was a little disappointed that we had to leave. The time had passed so quickly, but I could see we needed to say goodbye when I noticed Grace nodding off a bit. I’m truly looking forward to spending the next month and a half getting to know the seniors and having some fun with Shakespeare.

Editor’s Note: The names of the individuals at the Abington Memory Fitness Center have been changed to protect their privacy.