The Birds, a comedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, was first performed in 414 B.C. In November 2017, it will be performed at the Provincetown Playhouse and will feature residents from The Hebrew Home at Riverdale. The Birds is part of NYU Steinhardt’s Drama Therapy Program‘s therapeutic theatre series, As Performance, which seeks to explore the aesthetic, therapeutic, and ethical issues embedded in the process of making theatre. We spoke to drama therapist, Barbara Kaynan, Steinhardt alumna and The Birds director, about the production.
The Birds is part of NYU’s Drama Therapy’s As Performance series. How has working on this play been therapeutic to the cast members? How might it give the audience catharsis?
Creating and performing The Birds has invited The Hebrew Home residents and staff into a community building experience. Physical and cognitive limitations can periodically thwart opportunities for connection. Through our play, residents who live on different neighborhoods (areas within our home) have formed meaningful connections and will stop to speak with each other in the halls. Engaging in this project has given some individuals new found purpose and motivation. Staff has had the opportunity to deepen connections with one another. The experience of being heard and supported is central to building community. In this therapeutic theatre model, the audience is enrolled as a character within the play, deepening the effort to build community and share in experiences together.
What insights do nursing home residents bring to this story of two lost Athenians who are disillusioned with Athens and searching for a new home?
Each resident and staff member has not always called The Hebrew Home their home. This community is comprised of individuals who are now together, coming from varied cultural backgrounds and families, sharing space. Living and working in a shared home, navigating skilled nursing and/or memory care needs can come with challenges. It is through relationships that communities find and support both each other and themselves. This experience has been embraced, celebrated, and explored within its direct connection to the characters and plot of The Birds.
The Birds was written was first performed 2,400 years ago. What makes this work timely?
This production of The Birds is timely because it comes at a moment during which there is emerging appreciation for the arts in healthcare which was fully understood by ancient Greeks. There is a reason The Birds continues to be produced centuries after its original creation: its thematic questions remain central to our exploration of humanity: What components make up an ideal community and is an ideal community even possible? How do we share space and hold needed boundaries at the same time? How do we respect and honor each other’s different lived experiences?
The Hebrew Home includes individuals who have been here for decades as well as individuals who are new to the community. It can be easy to get caught up in our own individual bubbles and forget the impact just one of us has on the greater whole. This play reminds us, with heart and humor, to consider our place within the communities we live.
What special talents do nursing home residents bring to the stage?
What talents don’t they have is my question! We have many residents who have never performed before but you would never know it. One talent that stands out is their ability to truth-tell. Each of the ensemble members has had the ability to be honest in their reflections and sharing throughout this process. That talent has opened a pathway for significant processing to unfold. Each individual has brought their own unique spontaneity and creativity to the play-devising process. Wisdom, bravery, sharp senses of humor, passion, and dedication are other special talents of the ensemble that come to mind!
What surprised you the most about The Birds? Have you been transformed?
What has surprised me most in this process is the residents’ eagerness to perform. Their desire to take stage and express their feelings has been wonderful. It is a reminder that we are always growing and relevant.
My transformation has come both from growing along with the group and deepening connections with colleagues through our support of the residents.
The Birds will be performed at NYU’s Black Box Theater and The Hebrew Home at Riverdale. Tickets for the performance at NYU are open to the public. For tickets ($15 general, $5 for students and seniors), visit tickets.nyu.edu, call 212-998-4941, or visit the NYU Box Office in person at 566 LaGuardia Place.