Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life Stories Fourth Classs

My students continue to amaze me with stories of their lives...and we've only just begun!  This week we heard stories of romance, love, heartache and a few surprises.  As I glanced at the stories they handed in for me to read (not all stories were read) my eyes rested on Betty's story of boycotting the lunch counters in Concord, NC.  She wrote of being called foul names, spat upon and pushed around and later told by her college that she was not allowed to demonstrate...and a gentleman who, as a high school student raised a Nazi flag up his high school flagpole and to this day no one knows who raised this flag in post WWII 1949 America...he did it as a prank... and so Willie continues with her journaling of our process from the students point of view.     Wrenn

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday 23, 2011

This is the fourth week of Life Stories class and certain things are beginning to show: we are planting roots of our yesterdays’ remembrances: hellos are quick to come, smiles are instantaneous, and our body language suggests an easy camaraderie is settling between us. And, although many still wear name tags, they seem to be just a thing to put on, completing our routine of stepping into ‘a classroom atmosphere.’

As with the beginning of each session, Wrenn gets everyone out of their seat and moving, warming us up with hand waves, body bends from head to toe, and always the kicker: laughing! We next heat up our brain cells by calling on Shakespeare and revisiting his endless kit of insults where we invariably—you guessed it—find laughter, again.

Within the last couple of weeks, we’ve been introduced to another challenge: mirror mimicking each other’s movements. At first, it was a simple one on one…then five on one and this week, it was a group exercise, and there again, you can imagine how it ended—more laughter. We’re getting quite good at this laughter thing!

Next came improvisation time: Mardell and I had part-time jobs cleaning jails: clearing cobwebs, and dusting old mattresses. When live spiders were found under the mattresses, the job took on more than we had bargained for and even the money paid paled to our endurance level of tolerance toward the leggy critters.

The men filled the next playbill: Hess, Don, Dave, and Ted. The story involved a visit to a car dealer for a first time purchase of a car for the teenage son. The young man had a hard time controlling his excitement; he had no interest in his dad’s questions of: how many miles to a gallon? Was it in good condition? His brain was on fire! He was already behind the wheel; his foot ready to take flight. Did he get the car? The smile was still on Dave’s face today!

Story reading time followed: groups of four gathered close to share memories. Voices buzzed low, giggles erupted now and then, and Wrenn eavesdropped at every turn. Time soon came to choose a story to act on and preparations were quickly made.

The improvisational skits were: Jane’s story of a sometimes combative son and her first meeting of the son’s special girlfriend face to face; Marti’s story of a family dining out and the young daughter enthralling a stranger who is simply passing by; and Sandy’s tale of found love, lost love, and found love, again—then marriage and moving to Rome, Italy.

Catchphrase words came from Jane’s tale upon hearing her son’s girlfriend’s first laugh—why she sounds just like me! Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

News Article in Charlotte Observer

See Link

Life Stories Third Class

We had an amazing third class filled with high energy and lots of laughter.  Mardell gushed how much she looked forward to Wednesdays and others greeted one another like old friends.  The stories enacted brought laughter, understanding and tears.  I am certain had we more time the class would have enjoyed discussing their memories aroused from the stories they had seen. 

The Memory Chair (cont’d)

Wednesday, February, 16, 2011

This is our third week of Life Stories class. We are still in the ‘getting to know you’ stage, and like the week before, most of us put on our name tags before finding a seat. It is obvious that we are attaining a cohesive balance because lots of talk goes on as we wait for Wrenn to begin the class.

Once we’ve loosened the kinks from our bodies, and tested our vocal cords for sound ( Ho, Ho , Ha, Ha Ha), we get down to business. And of course, one of those business duties was to reacquaint ourselves with ‘The Master Bard’ himself: Shakespeare! We get to throw his words of insult at each other with nary a thought of consequences…how long has it been since a person could do that and still keep one’s head?

Today was Improvisation Day: Hess, Barbara, and Julia acted out a skit that involved a man taking a woman and a five year old child out to lunch. Of which, Julia, playing the child, upstaged the scene by putting her feet on the table, wanting things her way…or no way…and as you might expect, the power of a five year old child almost always comes out the winner.

The next skit, the players were: Ted, Sandy, Mardell, and Me. The story was of a daddy, a six year old child, and a conjurer, who is trying to bring back a runaway wife with a dose of voodoo enticement. And once again, our class members really got into the background scene: the barking of dogs and the clucking of hens most likely could be heard clear up to St. John Street. In fact they were deep into their role as the skit ended with the child’s mind still caught up with the mysterious lady, Odella.

The next order of business was: dividing into groups of five to read our stories of teenage memories and to then select one story and act it out. There would be three improvisational skits to perform.

The room buzzed with voices, a laugh here and there, paper shuffling occasionally…and a body prowling in and out around the group—Wrenn.

Finally, decision time came. Barbara’s story of a family in chaos, Marti’s story of teenage discovery (what takes place in New York, stays in New York), and Lynnsy’s ongoing memory of A call to Love, were presented with actors that fell right into their roles. Great job!

The mind-catching words today came from Marti’s teenage tale (a bit of coughing here). “Well…maybe the second cigarette will be a little better…”

Elizabeth T. (Willie)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Life Stories Second Class

We had another amazing class!  People started arriving 20 minutes early and by the start of class everyone was talking to one another...not a shy person in the group..already an ensemble of people supporting one another!  Very uplifting!!   The room was filled with energy and the lights of 16 people with a thirst for learning and experiencing new things and a willingness to share their intimate life stories...I spoke with one of the students after class who asked if the story she planned to tell next week was too serious/sad....After wiping the tears from my face I told her no...that it was a story to be told..a story to be heard...a story that others could learn from....

The Memory Chair (cont’d)  Our Second Class

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This is our second week of Life Stories class and we are still wearing our name tags; this may go on for quite a while, remember, most of our members have reached what has been called that ‘golden’ stage in life: ‘Seniors.”

We are still working on the introductory phase and Wrenn got right into it. She probably had nightmares of her weekly schedule forever being a week behind, and on the 12th week as the last class ended and we walked out, one by one, she would be standing at the door saying, “but we didn’t get to the best part…acting!”

So we got started on the last eight members’ question and answer session. Many things came to light: when Dave was asked his name, he had to look down at his name tag, it was turned backwards and he had to flip it over, “Dave,” he finally said. Of course, we all laughed with him. We found out Hess is our Nature Man, he said being outside was a passion of his, and also, cooking. Don told us he is writing about his life. And Jane revealed she joined the class because she loved to talk…and always wanted to be ‘a drama queen.’ Doesn’t every class need one? Barbara’s favorite color is purple…and one other thing she and I have in common…hats…she had on a cute black one.

Wrenn asked for volunteers to do a short skit about a lady driver running a red light and being stopped by a policeman. It was a class act with Lynnsy, the driver, and Carolyn, being the cop. Needless to say, a lot of the ad-lib answers sent us into gales of laughter. What we came away with was: never drive when drinking, even if you deny it; always have your glasses on if you need them to see; and never answer the question, Where are your glasses? by saying, “I don’t know.” And also, try to keep your driver’s license up to date. It was her lucky day: Lynnsy received only a warning.

We were then divided into groups of four to read our assignment about childhood stories and to select one story for the writer to read out loud to the group. And of course, we ran over the time limit…but most of us stayed. After hearing the stories, Wrenn said we had possibilities and she could already see certain scenes being played out on our big Play Date.

We were given our assignment for next week and then dismissed in quick order.

The hero of the day was Don…with his most important question, “Where’s the food?”

Elizabeth (Willie) Towles

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life Stories Class for Seniors in Matthews

My 'Life Stories' class started and my oh my what an amazing group of people!  We laughed, we shared stories, we felt deep emotions for one another...Truly truly an exciting first day.  One of my students plans to keep a journal of the class and has permitted me to include it here....So many stories to tell from my sixteen amazing students....Can't wait for the next class where everyone is to write a half page childhood memory (one minute)... The following was written by Elizabeth Towles (Willie)

The Memory Chair

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

There are sixteen of us and we are here at the Matthews Playhouse for a class listed as: Life Stories.

The chairs form a large circle inside the ample corner room. We are a diverse group, women as well as men, and all with one connecting thread…we are labeled Seniors, as in the time of our life’s number game. In charge is a young woman, Wrenn, who evidently has great courage; she had been the leader of children’s group, and others, and now…our group, carrying a plethora of personalities, experiences, and problems that grew us and shaped our present personas.

We will meet one day a week, for a time of 1 &1/2 hrs, for the next twelve weeks, learning life stories from each other, and eventually drafting a play from one of the stories. Along the way, we’ll have a lot of laughs, oh and ah at surprises, and give hugs when touching becomes a need.

Today, we wore name tags and were paired with another classmate. In turn, we asked each other questions and answered them out loud. Questions like: Your name? Do you have a nickname? What is your favorite color…and why? Why did you join this class? And do you have anything you’d like to share with the group? Needless to say, it was the last question that opened the flood gates of remembrance…only eight people got to participate. It seems when given a chance to have our say…we seniors really have our say. Next week the remaining eight will have their turn.

I was paired with Terry, who I soon learned had asked to partner with me, I agreed, not knowing there was more behind the asking. We exchanged names and small talk before being center stage for our questioning period. When I asked about nicknames, she said she had been called Willie, which is part of my name, and also that she was a writer. As she talked, I found many commons that we shared. Strangers upon meeting, but within a matter of quick minutes, we felt kinship by our past. After dealing with debilitating health problems for the last 10 months, this was my first attempt at stepping back into my life; and Terry seemed put in place by knowing Hands.

The class went by so quickly that I remember only a handful of names from today’s gathering: Ted, who wrote under his name tag, Donald Duck; he gave us a Quack, Quack to validate his note, Barbara, who said her stories would be coming next week, Julia, whose ready smile lit up her face; and Sandy who said she had been wanting to do something for a long time, and with a mischievous look in her eyes, she pulled up a sleeve and on the soft underside of her left arm a message read: Have Faith and Breathe…. Elizabeth