New York’s Seniors Communities Offer Workshops with Opera Singers and Broadway Insiders
Enrichment classes cost a dime at retirement facilities, but a plethora of upscale seniors communities in New York City offer top-level workshops, taught by local artists and experts from local museums and cultural institutions.
“It’s definitely more than bingo,” said Andrew Young, senior public relations specialist at Brookdale Senior Living, which operates nearly 700 senior residences across the country.
At Brookdale Battery Park City, an independent living facility on the Hudson River, residents had the chance to attend lectures given by dancers from the New York City Ballet, who perform and talk about the history of a particular show and share details about their performances.
Another class, taught by Robert Amodeo, a working stylist, told behind the scenes and costume and makeup history of Broadway shows and movies. Amodeo said the lecture was like a master class. Sometimes he brings a script from a Broadway show or TV show he’s worked on, then reads and analyzes parts of the script with the residents and talks about the costume design approach, the wig or makeup for each character.
“It’s like going backstage or on set,” said Amodeo, who was recently a swing makeup artist for the Broadway show “Harry Potter & the Cursed Child,” before the pandemic interrupted performances. “I often have a captivated audience because I describe my thought process and get involved in real company stories. “
For many residents moving into senior housing, it feels like a new chapter in life, according to Whitney Glandon, director of resident programs at Brookdale. Many seniors feel that they finally have time to live out a long-standing passion and, in many cases, to discover new ones. And because the city attracts a wide range of experts from a variety of fields, Glandon said it’s easy to find teachers.
Other classes included an American history class taught by a historian and former journalist, and a New York University professor who spoke about religion.
“And all the residents have to do is take an elevator to participate,” said Glandon.
At Sunrise East 56th, a seniors’ residence that will open this summer on the Upper East Side, proximity to numerous museums makes it easy for staff to organize private tours of the region’s high-turnover cultural institutions, according to the executive director, Tom Cana. .
There are preliminary sightseeing and programming plans with the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Folk Art. Artists affiliated with the Society of Illustrators will likely teach on-site, Cana said.
A recent popular workshop at Inspir Carnegie Hill was a horticulture class taught by a therapist at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center, according to Amy Silva-Magalhaes, senior vice president of community operations at Maplewood Senior Living and Inspir. Residents had the chance to learn about various plants and help grow them in the building’s garden.
“Horticultural therapy helps with hand-eye coordination, and there’s something about gardening that sparks a lot of personal stories,” said Silva-Magalhaes.
Classes such as memoir writing and art history will also be offered by partners such as 92nd Street Y and the Jewish Museum.
Martha Eckfeldt, 79, a resident of Watermark in Brooklyn Heights, said she recently discovered a new love for poetry.
“I had never had time to immerse myself in it, but after a course I realized that I really enjoyed learning more about the poet and the historical background behind the passage,” Eckfeldt said.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Eckfeldt attended a music therapy class taught by Rafael Stepto, a music therapist at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. A long-time member of various choirs, Eckfeldt effortlessly alternated between melodic vocals and harmony, while others sang and tapped on a steel tongue drum and claves.
Then about an hour and a half later, Eckfeldt found herself enjoying a concert in the lobby of the apartment building of Peter Kendall Clark, an opera singer who performed outdoors in Brooklyn Heights during the pandemic.
Three decades ago, retirement homes were places where older Americans could simply get health care, according to David Freshwater, president of Watermark Retirement Communities. Now, with many studies on aging finding that mental engagement leads to better health (and vice versa), older people want to participate in stimulating programs, he said.
Some of the residency program directors are artists themselves and have invited personal friends and professional colleagues to teach. Glandon is a former professional dancer. Not only did she bring in Amodeo, her longtime friend and collaborator, to teach Brookdale, but she also taught her own intergenerational dance and art program, which included a dance flash mob in Union Square.
Aaron Feinstein, director of people, arts and culture at Watermark, is a former theater director and musician. He asked a college friend, Marielle Heller, screenwriter, actress and director, to come see his films with the residents and then organize a question-and-answer session.
“There is a level of sophistication in our classes, just because we are in New York City, the largest cultural center in our country,” he said.
Feinstein often sits at the Steinway piano in the lobby playing whatever comes to mind. And yes, he takes requests.