By Merle Exit

SPARC, Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide, marries members of the creative set with older residents in community arts projects across the five boroughs.

Last week, participants at the Jewish Association Serving the Aging’s Rockaway Park Senior Center had the chance to brush up on their Shakespeare with SPARC artist Lenny Leibowitz.

“I’ve been working with an amazingly talented, brave and adventurous group of seniors on the world of acting,” Leibowitz said. “What is being presented is an informal share discovery in front of people that uses some of the corporate principles over the course of study on how to act.”

The presentation involved eight of the members: Selma Kleinman, Rose Brief, Linda Green, Jeffrey Sobel, Geoffrey Siegel, Howard Gorlitz, Ruby Ford and Phyllis Tatz.

“I have trouble walking,” said Phyllis Tatz. “With this class I don’t feel like I’m old and handicapped.”

The finale of the presentation had Kleinman performing a monologue.

“SPARC Artist Lenny Leibowitz and participating seniors presented an hourlong theatrical adventure that represented a sampling of the work since January, from playing an intention, to improvisation, to readings from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Hamlet,’” Daniel Arnow, who runs the SPARC program for the Queens Council on the Arts, said.

For a few hours each week, Leibowitz worked with the seniors at the center on a different principle of acting.

“If you can act Shakespeare, you can act anything,” Leibowitz said. “His work is a great means to transcend your limits. It’s as good, challenging and full-blooded as anything gets. Being that it was a course of study from when they were in school, it reverts back to their childhood. It would be a misconception or false assumption to think that it was over their head.”

Leibowitz first interviewed with Fay Schwimmer, director of the senior center, to determine whether he was a good fit psychically, artistically and personality-wise but also whether his offerings in the world of drama was a good fit for these seniors’ desires.

“JASA Rockaway Park seniors never cease to amaze me,” Schwimmer said. “This program keeps them socializing with each other, brought them out of their shyness and gives them the chance to utilize both their brains and body.”

SPARC is a community arts engagement program that places artists-in-residence at senior centers across the five boroughs of New York City to provide arts programs for older adults. Grants were given by Queens Council on the Arts for this borough project through the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and Department of Aging.

This year the program placed 51 artists in 50 senior centers in all five boroughs. Residency projects have ranged from oral history projects, choral music, and dance to creative writing, painting and more.

For more information on SPARC programs, visit www.nyc.gov/nyculture.

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