Out & About: Series for older adults celebrates creative play 

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, longtime friends and Upper Valley creatives Michael Zerphy, Marv Klassen-Landis and Ham Gillett have teamed up to offer creative play workshops for older adults at the Thompson Senior Center and Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock. Courtesy photo

From left, longtime friends and Upper Valley creatives Michael Zerphy, Marv Klassen-Landis and Ham Gillett have teamed up to offer creative play workshops for older adults at the Thompson Senior Center and Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock. Courtesy photo Courtesy photograph

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-02-2024 9:21 PM

Modified: 02-05-2024 4:43 PM


WOODSTOCK — Three longtime Upper Valley performers are teaming up to bring more play into the lives of the region’s older adults.

Friends for decades, Marv Klassen-Landis, Ham Gillett and Michael Zerphy have been been mainstays in the region’s creative world, from storytelling to poetry to theater. Now they’ve started to confront aging.

After hearing about a Vermont Arts Council grant available for programs for older adults, Klassen-Landis proposed they combine their talents to lead workshops to connect people with their creative sides in a low-pressure, low-stress format.

“The great thing about the creative process is you’re always learning something new,” Klassen-Landis, 70, of Windsor, said. “No matter how many decades you’ve been doing something you’re always coming up with new skills, new problems to solve.”

He noted that cognitive ability tends to be a concern for people in their 60s and beyond, and learning new skills, as well as social interaction, could help with memory. “That’s part of why I think it’s really valuable,” he said.

The series kicks off 4 p.m. Friday at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library, where the trio will present a program titled “We’re Never Too Old to Play.” After that, there are seven weekly workshops scheduled to take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. from Feb. 16 through March 29 at the Thompson Senior Center. The series concludes with an April 12 performance at the library, where those who participated in one or multiple workshops can share skills they’ve picked up. All the workshops are free, and registration is requested by emailing programs@ThompsonSeniorCenter.org.

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The kickoff event — which includes readings, skits, singing and improv, among other art forms — explores “the humor and the pathos of aging, probably underlying humor because that’s how we roll,” Klassen-Landis said. “The idea of bringing creative play into the lives of our generation was really appealing,”

While the performance is open to people of all ages, the hope is that those who are interested in the workshops will stop by.

“I think if we get one thing across in this show … is that you’re never too old to play. We’ve had to keep reminding ourselves over and over that this doesn’t have to be a Carnegie Hall/Broadway production,” Gillet, 69, of Windsor, said. “This is really what we’re trying to get across: Three older goofy guys who happen to be friends who happen to be creative artists are putting together whatever talent we have to have fun.”

Zerphy, a Hartland resident who has regularly performed as a vaudevillian clown, said that staying connected with play — whether that be through singing or storytelling or reading out loud — can help older adults focus on what they can do, instead of what they can no longer do.

“There’s a lot of different stages to life, and it can be very easy to get bogged down and paralyzed by all the things you have to deal with,” Zerphy, 71, said. “I think, especially as we get older, it’s harder and harder to do.”

For example, learning how to tell stories — even if they’re about a topic that doesn’t strike someone as interesting at the time — can lead to deeper connections between people.

“It doesn’t have to be some fantastical event: It can be making an ordinary event interesting,” Zerphy said. “There’s a lot of value in telling stories to other people and to listening to other people’s stories. There’s a lot of value in just being able to hold those stories for each other, to just hear them.”

The program is being funded by a $5,800 grant that library staff and Klassen-Landis applied for, along with support from the senior center. Last summer, the two nonprofit organizations collaborated on three programs related to death and dying and were exploring more opportunities for joint events, programming librarian Liza Bernard said. The creative play workshops felt like the perfect fit.

“We want to do more collaboration with them since a lot of our patrons are also their clients,” Bernard said. “The beauty of the way this is set up, the arc of the program, it can be whatever people want it to be.”

For more information visit normanwilliams.org/events. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.