Brownsville Seniors Shine In The Tempest
Mary Polemarhakis, Director of Program Development for NYC Parks, partnered with The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit to bring Richard III to a diverse cross-section of the New York City community in 2012. The Mobile Shakespeare Unit aims to reach wide audiences by performing for free in local prisons, homeless shelters, senior centers and community venues, in accordance with the mission of the organization’s founder Joseph Papp, who wanted to bring Shakespeare to the masses. At four recreation centers around the city, free performances took place with a professional cast. A partnership was then formed between NYC Parks’ Brownsville Recreation Center (BRC) and The Public Theater.
Recently, the partnership gave twenty seniors, recruited from weekly Shape Up NYC classes at BRC, the opportunity to learn a variety of dance styles at the behest of The Public Theater’s PUBLIC WORKS initiative. PUBLIC WORKS is designed to bring together professionals and novice performers from the community in the same production. After months of training with a dance instructor, the seniors were part of the ensemble of Shakespeare in the Park’s The Tempest. The Tempest cast five professional actors and 200 talented New Yorkers to participate over three nights. The musical adaptation of the Shakespeare classic was performed in Central Park’s open air, Delacorte Theater, September 6-8. All the shows were free to the public.
The BRC seniors performed their colorful number to a packed audience every night. Fitted in beautiful yellow costumes, the seniors danced and shimmied their way on stage in the “Yellow Sands Dance”, with Ms. Vivian Jett singing vocals. Ms. Jett is an original cast member of Broadway’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, a 30 year veteran of Parks and the BRC Senior Coordinator. The experience was incredible for the seniors, who were grateful for the unique opportunity. Lear deBessonet, who directed the performance and is the Director of PUBLIC WORKS, visited BRC the following week to express her gratitude for the seniors’ valuable commitment and to announce the continuation of the partnership with BRC. The seniors would be able to choose a drama subject to be taught weekly by a new Musical Director at the center! They also received free tickets to see Spiderman: The Musical on Broadway, courtesy of The Public Theater’s choreographer Chase Brock.
The New York Times published a review of The Tempest. The article quotes Shakespeare, “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises. Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not,” and goes on to say, “Shakespeare buffs will recognize these lines as describing the setting of The Tempest. But on certain balmy late summer evenings, it’s possible to imagine that the magical island in question is none other than Manhattan.” What fitting words for the production! It was a magical experience for BRC’s seniors and all who were present.
“How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!”