JSA Spring Forum: Masks, Revelation and Selfhood
Sponsored by the Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Louis Brier Home & Hospital
Written by Shanie Levin
Photography by JoAnne Emerman
“Masks, Revelation and Selfhood” was the theme of the Spring Forum sponsored by the Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Louis Brier Home and Hospital. The Forum was held on Sunday, May 26th, at 2 p.m. at the Peretz Centre.
Since August 2018, Louis Brier residents have explored themes of personhood and creative expression, crafting stunning masks, creative narratives, and original dances with Expressive Arts therapist Calla Power, and choreographer Lee Kwidzinski. The whole process was filmed with care and artistry by filmmaker Jay Fox in his documentary.
Calla, Lee, Jay, as well as Jennifer Young, a resident of Louis Brier who participated in the project, joined us at the Forum. They brought with them a number of the masks that were made by the residents. Everyone could examine them up close and try on the masks. They were able to experience the effect of the changes one feels when masked and thus hidden from others.
Ken Levitt, President of Jewish Seniors Alliance, welcomed everyone and emphasized JSA’s motto, “Seniors Stronger Together.” “When older adults assist older adults, there is absolutely nothing that can’t be done.” This is what JSA does through their Peer Support Programs, seniors helping seniors. There is no fee for these services. He encouraged everyone to support JSA financially, so that their services will continue to be free. He then introduced Calla Power.
Calla has been working with residents at Louis Brier for about five years. The project with masks lasted about seven months and culminated in a program that included the masks, stories, poems, drama and dance. She spoke of the history of masks. The oldest masks, dating from the Neolithic Period, were found near Jerusalem and have been exhibited in a Jerusalem museum. Masks are used in many cultures as part of religious and/or spiritual ceremonies. Overhead slides were shown to showcase masks from many different cultures including African, Indian and local Indigenous cultures. Those wearing the masks could represent “gods” and be a conduit for messages from above.
Ginger Lerner, Louis Brier Recreation Therapist, had approached Calla about making masks for Purim. They obtained a donation from the Estate of Frank and Rosie Nelson that facilitated the project.
Calla did some research on Purim and discovered that many of the characters were masked, e.g., Esther, who masked her origins, and Vashti, who refused to be unmasked. As residents engaged with the project they became aware of differences, such as, what part of yourself do you keep hidden behind a mask.
Lee Kwidzinski, an Expressive Art and Dance Therapist has thirty years of experience working with older adults, mainly those with dementia and wheelchair bound. The dancers worked with the mask makers to create dance movements related to their masks and the residents’ ideas. The dancers became the bodies of the mask makers, who chose the movements and the music. The residents also came on stage with the dancers for the performance.
Jennifer Young, one of the mask makers, expressed how moving the entire experience has been. She stated that the group became cohesive even though they hadn’t known each other well before.
Jennifer said that she had been reluctant about the dance but felt that the dancers were extremely supportive. At the end she found the movements liberating. She felt inside as if she were also dancing.
She gained energy and willpower from the experience and thanked the three, Calla, Lee and Jay for giving her the ability “get up and keep going.”
Jay Fox, the videographer and filmmaker, has produced award winning films, documentaries, music videos and PSA’s (public service announcements). Jay was involved in the project from the beginning. He felt that the journey was as important as the film and the art. Given free rein, he found the experience liberating as the video took shape and evolved. We then watched Jay’s video which mapped out the project over the time period.
Gyda Chud led the Q. and A. Members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the information and the beauty of the project. It was suggested that advocacy was needed to spread this sort of experience to other care homes and adult day care centers. The afternoon concluded with a thank you to the presenters by Shanie Levin. Everyone enjoyed wonderful snacks provided by Gala Catering. A very enjoyable, emotional and liberating afternoon was had by all.
Masks crafted by Louis Brier residents were on display on tables for people to view and interact with. They were able to experience the effect of the changes one feels when masked and thus hidden from others.