Playing up happens every Saturday morning for residents at Uniting’s The Marion aged care facility in Leichhardt, Sydney.
For these residents, weekly drama classes offer a chance to loosen up and have a giggle as they join their volunteer drama teachers Belinda Mason and Colleen Kennedy – in what could be Australia’s oldest theatre group.
The drama class, which has been running for the past six years, has proven to be an important outlet for its nine regular participants.
One class participant, 84-year-old Alison has Parkinson’s disease and stressed these classes are important to her as they provide a sense of belonging to a group and the opportunity to share stories and laughter.
Another participant, 95-year-old Billie Brace, moved into The Marion earlier this year and jumped into the activity soon after.
“What I like is the wonderful sense of companionship. The group understands how you’re living and what you’re going through, there’s something wonderous about it and I really look forward to seeing everyone each week.”
These classes act as a form of play therapy for residents, which is a therapy model whereby the trained play therapist utilises the power of play to relieve suffering, prevent or resolve emotional and behavioural difficulties and to achieve optimal growth and development of children or older individuals.
Ms Kennedy said the group used to put on productions, but now the focus is more on play and improvisation inspired by theatre sports games.
“What people are feeling in these reduced circumstances in terms of age and the fact they’re now institutionalised is that they’re shutting down, this group and class allows them to be playful and open up their feelings again,” she said.
Ms Mason said they use drama, movement and storytelling exercises that are fun and helpful to relieve stress and encourage connections with others.
“Seeing them laugh and have fun is so wonderful, especially after having been so isolated during COVID. Many of our members live with dementia and lose their confidence in their ability to communicate which in turn isolates them further, so seeing them being able to express themselves is just heart-warming.”