Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

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Westmount theatre group lets loose

“It’s often the most unlikely of people that come,” says Lois Dellar, a working actress who teaches theatre classes at Manoir Westmount. “You give them something to say besides their own words and they’re playing a character so suddenly they’re allowed to do anything and the inhibitions drop away.”

But it goes beyond fun. Dellar saw an NBC news feature on two psychologists who have been doing theatre classes with seniors for 14 years. “They’ve proven it helps cognitive skills, problem solving, self-esteem, and socialization.”

Of course amusement is still the primary objective. “For some of them, it’s the highlight of their week,” Dellar says. “We laugh a lot.”

“Fun doesn’t have to stop because you’re past 21,” Yvonne Moody interjects. Moody is a regular at the Friday class. “Everybody works together well, and Lois is always full of brilliant ideas, so we’re never short of entertainment,” she says.

The class always begins with icebreaker games, which lead to plenty of laughter. The objective of these games is “to keep them thinking on their feet to get the brain and body working,” Dellar says. The warm-up includes memory, improvisation and problem solving games.

Dellar explains that it’s important, when teaching seniors, to cater to their diverse needs. Some of the students are not mobile and others don’t have the capabilities to memorize all of their lines.

“It’s like readers theatre,” she says. “They come on for their entrances and they go off for their exits.” They have their scripts with them throughout the performance but the actors are so animated, you forget that they have the script in front of them.

Her own experience spans theatre productions, movies and TV shows. Recently she was in a movie called Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie. Dellar played the part of a store clerk. “I do a lot of small parts with big stars,” she says. She has also been on TV with main roles in Dead Zone, Millenium, 21 Jump Street, Neon Rider, and The Outer Limits.

Dellar graduated from the Dawson College professional theatre program in the 1980s. Her first role outside of school was in a movie called Jack Knife, where she was in a scene alongside Robert De Niro. “I played a waitress. I come and serve his table. He’s there with Cathy Baker.” Dellar managed to score a picture of herself and De Niro,which apparently was nearly impossible to get. In those days, he refused to have his picture taken.

“Right now we’re working on some skits my husband wrote.” Dellar says the great thing about having original scripts is being able to tweak them. “They’ll say, 'Oh that’s funny!' or 'Oh that’s a little too risqué. Maybe we should tone that down a little bit.'” The other up side of having Her husband, James Melvain, writing the scripts, is the flexibility to add a character if a new resident joins the group. Because Melvain takes the time to come to class and get a feel for the personalities of the actors, the parts are tailored to each individual.

Dellar can’t help but brag about her husband’s success. “He’s an up and coming writer and he writes all my stuff!”

Moody also likes Melvain. “Lois’ husband is quite clever. He writes really amusing sketches. He sees us working so he knows our personalities.”

John Byers, one of three men in the group is fond of the characters that he plays. He’s happy that the group only performs comedic plays. “Last play, I was an adventurer. I was trying to address everybody on the ship and somehow I couldn’t because they kept interrupting me. I was so interesting but they wouldn't let me talk!”

Dellar says he had one of the best lines in the play. “And then you decided to go after the woman who was the tennis champion because you figured she had millions in sponsorships. And he said, ‘I think I’d like to million you—I mean marry you!’”

Byers enjoys the residence activities but he does have one complaint about his accommodations. “My problem is that there are 112 women and 13 men. So I’ve got to defend myself. I got a new battery for my pacemaker so that’ll give me the strength to ward them off!”

Dellar says that she loves acting but also has a passion for teaching. She says she laughs all the way home. Moody also laughs throughout the class. She believes this is a chance to break the ice with her fellow residents provide a place where they can let loose. “I suppose we’ve all got a little bit of exhibitionist in us.”

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