Last spring, playwright Barbara Cassidy welcomed a reporter from NY Press to her workshop at Visions at Selis Manor (a center for the visually impaired). What follows is an example excerpt of what takes place during a artist’s time in the SPARC: Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide program. The application for 2015 residencies is due on Tuesday, September 30 — LMCC only accepts applications for Manhattan senior centers, if you wish to work in another borough, please contact the local arts council.
“It seems like a lot of their writing lends itself to monologue,” said Cassidy. “They like to tell stories from their lives.”
Cassidy first came to Visions about a year and half ago to lead a workshop through the NY Writer’s Coalition. She applied to the SPARC program, which gives all artists in residence a $1,500 stipend and $500 in material reimbursements, in order to give her students at Visions another outlet for their writing.
“I had always been thinking in the back of my mind I would like to do some theater with them,” said Cassidy, who earned her M.F.A in playwriting from Brooklyn College. “They’re so ambitious…they want to go further with their work. This little workshop on Thursday wasn’t enough for them. They asked, ‘Where can we send our writing? Can we do a reading?’ I said, ‘I gotta get something more for these people.’”
Evelyn Larson, 81, whose service dog, a black Labrador named Idora, slept at her feet, also types in braille. She recalled her pink wedding dress, an Amethyst pin she won in her sixth-grade spelling bee, and a pair of snow pants she wore as a child. When they ripped, her mother mended the tear in the silky fabric, and Larson remembers running her fingertips along the stitches.
“I don’t have much from my mother, but I still have those,” Larson said. “I’d never give them up.”
For Cassidy, working with visually impaired students brings a unique set of challenges. She collects their work each week, but she can’t read braille and doesn’t have any of Larson’s work on her computer yet.
“I’m starting to panic about that,” Cassidy said.
While Larson and Smith can read and type braille, other students in the class still have some vision and write their stories by hand using thin black markers. A few students lost their vision recently and haven’t learned braille yet.