Gateway: Living

Could theater be the key to longevity? Sound Vista Village Storytellers might be on to something

The Sound Vista Storytellers read lines from the play “The Brazilian Cat” written by Conan Doyle during a Sept. 9 performance at Sound Vista Village.
The Sound Vista Storytellers read lines from the play “The Brazilian Cat” written by Conan Doyle during a Sept. 9 performance at Sound Vista Village. Courtesy

Ninety-two-year-old Maria Scott is an actress in the making, and she is pretty excited about what lies ahead for herself and a number of her friends living at Sound Vista Village in Gig Harbor.

The opportunity to perform in a setting that worked for the residents of Sound Vista Village dropped in their lap when Kathleen McGilliard, a professional in the performing arts, came into their lives.

McGilliard has a lifetime of experience in directing and teaching and, before her retirement, ran the Performance Circle and Encore Theater. Now she works with senior citizens and says it suits her just fine.

McGilliard’s mother, who passed away at 97 years old, was living at The Lodge at Mallard’s Landing in Gig Harbor when she approached the facility about running the Reader’s Theater in 2014. The facility was enthusiastic about the opportunity it presented for their residents and McGilliard began recruiting her actors on the spot.

“The actors don’t move around — they remain seated and do not wear costumes or have props. It is like a radio drama,” said McGilliard, who attributes her mother’s longevity to her lifetime involvement in the theater.

Facial expressions and voice volume lend themselves to the performances, and everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

Regular rehearsals take place so when the performance occurs, all the actors feel comfortable and confident with their assigned parts in the program.

Recently five actors performed “The Brazilian Cat,” written by Arthur Conan Doyle, much to the delight of audience members. Actors ranged from 72 to 92 years old.

Maria Scott played the part of Lucinda.

“We had rehearsals once a week to make sure that we learned our parts and didn’t have to memorize, and performed the play for our residents and their relatives and anyone else who wanted to attend,” Scott said.

Scott was amazed as how the actors were able to express feelings through their voices.

“At first we started off very quietly and seemed to be afraid to speak out, and suddenly we progressed to talking out loud with confidence,” she said.

Everyone is welcome at the table, said McGilliard.

“I usually do a little spiel and encourage everyone. If there are concerns about what they can do, I give them a smaller part and gradually move them up into something larger,” she said.

McGilliard works closely with the actors and said they all come for different reasons.

“Some truly enjoy theater and get a kick out of being creative and dramatic, and they all get to exercise their brains logically and creatively,” she said, adding that the very act of performing and practicing helps with memory issues.

One of the residents who performed in a play said her doctor noticed a difference in her cognition.

“I was pretty pleased to hear that,” said McGilliard.

Ana Maria Scott said her mother looks forward to the rehearsals and the performances.

“She adores it and it is the highlight of her life,” Ana Maria said. “Even though the actors are sitting, the characters are interacting among themselves.”

Kristi Knox, executive director of Sound Vista Village, said the rehearsals and performances have upped the game for the residents.

“It has been so good for the residents and they look forward to it every week,” Knox said.