Students bring seniors’ stories to life onstage

Music from the ‘40s and ‘50s fills the air as you walk into the dimly lit drama studio. A single spotlight shines brightly onstage. The coveted front-row seats are reserved for special guests—Chateau Vitaline residents who get to see their lives woven into a play.

Their excited whispers trail off as the lighting changes and the actors rush onstage for the opening scene. It’s the Second World War; everyone gasps as a gunshot pierces the air.

The tone of the play changes as the story unfolds. Dancing, hardships, immigration and true love are all realities of these seniors’ pasts.

“We have taken their stories and words that they’ve actually said and incorporated those as lines of dialogue in the play,” says Chantal Yardley, drama teacher at École Secondaire Beaumont Composite High School.

The students invited residents and their families to the school for two performances. They also did a performance at Chateau Vitaline for residents who were unable to travel.

Resident Joseph Klimosko’s life was featured in the play. “I thought the play was great and the kids did a good job performing,” he says.

Justin Fredericks (left) interviewed Joseph Klimosko (right) and played his character in the performance.

Chantal was inspired by the local elementary school’s Legacy Project and wanted her 18 students to bring the residents’ stories to life onstage.

“I asked my students if they would be interested in doing a project with seniors,” explains Chantal. “They were game and really excited.” 

Kelsey Knibbs, Recreation Aide at Chateau Vitaline, co-ordinated the efforts at the site. She is always thrilled to bring community into their recreation program because it helps residents feel a sense of value.

“Giving the residents opportunities to do meaningful things is essential to human health, and what better way to do that than by giving back to our community and helping young minds grow and learn?” asks Kelsey.

The 16- and 17-year-olds visited the site and focused on getting to know the seniors by asking them what it was like to grow up and what they think of the world today. They then developed scenes based on those stories, wrote a formal script and created a theatrical piece.

Grade 11 student Dorrian Parsons learned a lot of life lessons during the process. He says interviewing a man who was born in the Ukraine during the war was an honour.

“We have it easy. We have everything we want and everything we need. We never had to literally fight for our lives as [the seniors] did,” explains Dorrian. “When they tell you their stories, they tear up. You can tell that those times really impacted their lives and just looking back is hard. It was emotional.”

The learning experience was great not only for the students, but also for the residents, who found the experience uplifting.  

“[The students] listened to the residents’ stories with so much focus and interest and made them feel like they have a purpose, which is so important for anyone’s well-being and self-esteem,” says Kelsey.

Some of the residents and staff from Chateau Vitaline who were able to travel to École Secondaire Beaumont Composite High School to see the play (from left): Evie Varelas, Recreation Therapist; Filma Casimero, Healthcare Aide; Phyllis Hutton; Andree Delstanche; Janice Hutchin; and Kelsey Knibbs, Recreation Aide.

To see Global News' coverage of the story, click here.

To see the Beaumont News' coverage of the story, click here.

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