BY MICHAEL RANDAZZO
Tonight at LIU Brooklyn’s Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts, a new intergenerational theatre company, called Roots & Branches, will present two shows: “Losing the Signal” and “iMove.”
Directed by Eva Burgess, “Losing the Signal” highlights the anxieties both young and old share in regarding to technology. In “iMove,” multigenerational dance artist Sasha Soreff and Roots & Branches actors use movement and language to unpack 90 years of technological memories.
“We wanted one of our pieces to be about what’s happening with technology, seniors, and youth right now,” Artistic Director Dan Trujillo said. “We found a lot of senior audiences. . . would talk about fear: either they were ‘afraid’ or ‘not afraid’ of new technology, and the new world it represented.”
Young people were also fearful — but of “having to engage seniors about technology,” said Trujillo, “either because they thought they would be judged for their heavy use of it, or that seniors just wouldn’t get it. . . So new technology is a real flash point for intergenerational anxieties.”
iMove represents more of “an artistic stretch for our company,” Trujillo said. “But you can see from the image, it can be beautiful when you get different generations sharing the space physically.”
Roots & Branches was founded in 1990 by Arthur Strimling as a collaborative ensemble with actors aged 10-90 working together to create performances that reflect shared concerns. Using the concept of “devised theater,” the group begins without a script, holds three months of rehearsals/discussions/improvisation/storytelling/writing, and then collaborates on a script.
“That’s how we did “Losing the Signal,” said Trujillo, “and that’s generally how R&B has created work for the past 25 years.”
A chance meeting with Trujillo, whose kids attend Community Roots Charter School with and Eva Burgess’ children her children, resulted in a fruitful collaboration between Eva Burgess and the theater troupe.
“I remember in my first meeting with Dan I talked about the impact both my grandmothers and elder relatives have had on me—the encouragement, wisdom and grit I gained from them has shaped who I am and how I see the world,” said Burgess.
Because Burgess works extensively creating theatre with young people, she appreciates Roots & Branches intergenerational focus. “I see how being young and or old requires tremendous bravery in this society,” she said. “We all can learn a great deal from sharing our experiences.”
As a both a parent and a son, Trujillo’s perspective is that of a need to recognize the “absence of elders from our day-to-day lives. . .We have plenty of contact between parents and children day-to-day, but not much between grandparents and grandchildren.”
Trujillo’s parents don’t live with him— a situation increasingly common for most Americans—though his father-in-law is a regular presence in his children’s life.
“There was a research study that showed in 2008, about 20% of all over-65 adults lived with a younger generation in their house, vs. 57% about a century ago,” he said. “What that means is that young people don’t have seniors as a part of their everyday lives. But that’s where we are right now as a society: seniors are people you visit. I’m not sure that’s healthy.”
For Marty Youngman, a senior citizen who has acted in Roots & Branches the past five years, the experience each participant brings—no matter his or her age—is the company’s distinctive feature.
“We try and point out the differences in the reality and perception between young and old,” said Youngman, who praised the meaningful and educational experience. “We relate to the stories, because they come from us. The process. . . is always a bonding experience. . . It’s both challenging and a great opportunity.”
FREE PERFORMANCE – Roots & Branches Theater’s Losing the Signal and iMove. April 29th, 6:30PM at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts (One University Plaza @ Flatbush Avenue, between DeKalb Ave. and Willoughby St., in Downtown Brooklyn).
To RSVP for tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kumble Theater’s Box Office at (718) 488-1624.