In the summer of 2011, I had the wonderful privilege of spending six weeks at The Actors Fund’s Lillian Booth Actors Home with my filmmaking partner, Hank Rogerson, and our small film crew. We were chronicling the rehearsals and performances of the residents’ production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, co-directed by Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody of Fiasco Theater.
I am really excited to report that this footage has now been shaped into a luminous, profound, and often laugh-out-loud feature documentary called Still Dreaming. I have to say that before I spent time at The Lillian Booth, the thought of getting old really scared me. None of my grandparents did it gracefully. My paternal grandmother with whom I was very close ended up in a nursing home. And truthfully, that has been my greatest unspoken fear about aging—that I will end up in a home relegated to bingo and television as my daily amusements, surrounded by people I have nothing in common with.
In striving for a creative life, outside the dictums of convention, to end up in the grips of an institutional setting is untenable for me. Thankfully, these days I do breathe easier about this after spending time at The Lillian Booth. There, I saw a community of people who understand and respect each other—fellow artists who celebrate each other’s talents. And the staff at The Lillian Booth encourages and supports this spirit as well. There is a true respect for the residents and a recognition of the need for meaningful engagement. I think it is a rare and lovely situation.
For the production of Midsummer, The Home jumped in fully and fostered a supportive, yet professional atmosphere. The staff did whatever it took to get residents ready for rehearsals at 9:30 and 1:30 each day. This meant adjusting nursing and therapy schedules, transporting those in wheelchairs, finding lost scripts and even gathering props and costumes. Yalile Chavez, the Recreation Director, even made some of the whimsical costumes herself.
Outside of rehearsal, we witnessed the more subtle culture of creative community at The Home time and time again. One afternoon, we found Joan Stein at the piano, accompanying singer Charlotte Fairchild on the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In singing this challenging tune that reaches across octaves, Charlotte delivered with the punch of a working professional. Joan played the song from memory with emotion and resonance. It was a goose-bumps moment for me as a filmmaker, as this scene seemed to contain the essence of what The Home is about—friendship, creativity and community. (See the clip at https://vimeo.com/167831827)
The residents at The Lillian Booth showed me a different idea of aging. They taught me to embrace every day and to share your creative gifts fully no matter the circumstance. They taught me that creativity can carry us through the hard moments and situations, and that creativity has no end. –Jilann Spitzmiller