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‘Still Dreaming’ challenges assumptions about elderly

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Charlotte Fairchild as "Puck"

Charlotte Fairchild is a Broadway veteran of 42nd Street, Damn Yankees, Mame and countless other productions. Now she’s taking on her biggest role yet as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – at age 80.

Charlotte is one of a dozen actors staging the play at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in New Jersey, the setting for the documentary Still Dreaming. Still Dreaming, the latest offering of the On Screen/In Person film series, will screen on Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m. in Taylor Little Theatre.

In an effort to boost the quality of life at the Lillian Booth Actors Home, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody of New York City’s Fiasco Theater agreed to lead the home’s residents, most of them former actors and entertainers, in a production of the Shakespearean comedy.

Like true love, the course of the production doesn’t always run smooth, as the actors cope with Alzheimer’s, dementia, sight and hearing loss and other disabilities. But as the once-celebrated performers immerse themselves in their craft, they are reinvigorated, with staff at the home reporting increased self-esteem and improved disposition among the participants. Some even had their medication decreased, and there was a marked strengthening of community throughout the home.

“What we witnessed during the rehearsal and performance process of Midsummer is that the huge talent of these former entertainers is still alive and well, despite their physical and mental challenges,” said directors Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller in a statement. “We witness a group of elders coming out of retirement mode, and subsequently reawakening their minds, bodies and spirits in very moving and significant ways.”

An emotional and inspirational film that doesn’t shy away from the aging issue, Still Dreaming challenges assumptions about the elderly and demonstrates that old age can be a time of creative fulfillment rather than decline. Throughout the movie, the themes of Shakespeare’s fantastical comedy – including perception, reality vs. dreaming, and memory – become evident in different ways.

Following the screening, the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture will host a discussion on the film with Rogerson and Spitzmiller. Rogerson has directed award-winning documentaries, including Shakespeare Behind Bars, and has performed in film, theater and television, including a recent role on Breaking Bad. Spitzmiller’s documentary work has been broadcast around the globe on outlets such as BBC, PBS, Sundance Chanel, Discovery Health and StarzEncore. Their collaborative works have won over 20 festival awards.

The On Screen/In Person film series is presented with support from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. For more information on Still Dreaming, visit stilldreamingmovie.com. Tickets for the screening are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $1 for Mercyhurst students with ID. Tickets can be purchased by calling 814-824-3000 or by visiting miac.mercyhurst.edu.