Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: 'D-Generation' theater piece focuses on dementia with stories that reconnect

Bravo to a group of puppeteers who have sensitively extracted creativity from the inner recesses of the mind. Sandglass Theater explores the subject of Alzheimer's and advanced-stage dementia in its award-winning production, "D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks," opening tonight at 8 and running through Sunday on the stage of Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem.

What's unique about this touring theater piece with an original score is that it is a collaborative weave by Sandglass Theater, based in Putney, Vt., and late-stage dementia residents of care facilities in its locale. Sandglass co-artistic directors/husband-and-wife Eric Bass and Ines Zeller Bass, and Sandglass administrator Kirk Murphy portray the caregivers and as puppeteers man the five care-facility puppet characters "Rose," "Mary," "Florence," "Henry" and "Elwood." A talk-back with performers and audience will follow each performance.

The relationship between Sandglass and Touchstone goes way back, according to Bill George, Touchstone co-founder/ensemble member. George first met Eric Bass back in 1981, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Through the years, Touchstone audiences have experienced numerous productions by Sandglass brought to Bethlehem, including "Autumn Portraits," "Invitations to Heaven," "Village Child," "The Box Show," "The Pig Act" and "Richard 3.5."

For the "D-Generation" project, Sandglass performers utilized the creative group-based story-making program, TimeSlips, of which Kirk Murphy is a Certified Facilitator. TimeSlips was founded in 1997 by Anne Basting of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Versed in improvisational theater, Basting saw storytelling as a therapeutic invite to the imaginations of persons with memory loss when done in a non-stressful, supportive environment. By seating residents in circle formation, she showed them photos and guided them to imagine what was going on and make up a story. They did not have to rely on their memories.

"TimeSlips sets up a way for people with late-stage dementia to interact with each other," Eric Bass explained. "There are no wrong answers to our questions. …While there is no cure, none that we know of, at least we can improve the quality of life."

Ines Zeller Bass explained that the play is not meant to make fun, though there are funny moments, but rather to find joy in the communication. The sub-title, "An Exaltation of Larks," symbolizes "a moment of utter bliss," she said, using larks as imagery in their melodious rise to the sky.

According to Sandglass, residents' words, images and creative imaginations "yield work that is poetic, humorous, and quite mysterious. From these stories form scenes of the inner life of the characters, and creating a piece that reflects both the stigma and the acceptance, the despair and the joy, that is equally present and possible, in both the person with dementia and in their caregivers and family members."

To date, an estimated 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia, according to the World Health Organization. That number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Currently, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. This includes an estimated five million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals younger than age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer's.

Joan Williamson, TimeSlips coordinator in Milwaukee, said that thousands of people worldwide have trained in the storytelling method since its inception in 1997, especially since online training is available. Currently, there are 11 master trainers and approximately 50 certified facilitators and "that number is growing by the week," she said.

In addition to the main training center in Milwaukee, she said there are eight TimeSlips certified facilities, "organizations who have undergone additional training to embed TimeSlips into the culture of their facility and sustain it in the years to come." Because of the quick growth of TimeSlips, Williamson said the organization moved out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this past summer and is now a separate nonprofit.

"This allows us to be more nimble meeting the needs of a growing aging population," she added.

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Pianist Benjamin Hochman solos with the Reading Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Constantine, on Saturday at 8 p.m., at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading. Hochman will perform the Herculean masterpiece, "Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto." Also on the program is Hindemith's "Music for Strings and Brass," as well as Mozart's "Symphony No. 29."

Hochman is recognized as a passionate interpreter of diverse composers from Bach and Mozart, to Berg and Kurtag, with a penchant for juxtaposing familiar works with the unfamiliar.

The Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra Junior and Senior members will join in the evening as they perform Rossini's "William Tell Overture." The Youth Orchestra, in its 25th year, is under the direction of RSO cellist Peter Brye.

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"Centered: GoggleWorks Artists 9th Annual Exhibition" opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 5, 2014, at the GoggleWorks in Reading. The exhibit includes some 40 juried artists and alumni selected by the exhibition committee jury to be included in the GoggleWorks studios. On display will be a variety of mediums, including watercolor, oil, acrylic, photography, ceramics, sculpture and multi-media pieces in a variety of genres.

A First Friday reception will be held Dec. 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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A community discussion on accessibility, "START ACCESS NOW," will be presented by Betty Siegel, Esq., director of VSA and accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, on Nov. 21, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the Lehigh Valley Health Network, 2100 Mack Blvd., Allentown. The program is being hosted by the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, in cooperation with the Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Siegel's talk will address the civil rights of people with disabilities, good customer service practices, and the implications of the Americans for Disabilities Act for nonprofit organizations. She is knowledgeable in ways that cultural groups can provide people with disabilities greater access to the arts.

Since 2011, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council has been working with the Center for Independent Living; Center for Vision Loss; VSA Pennsylvania; Individuals with Disabilities, and local arts groups to establish a Pennsylvania Arts Access Program. According to the Council's executive director, Randall Forte, "The program seeks to make the valley more disability-friendly and increase attendance to cultural events by providing training and shared use of audio-description and open-captioning equipment.

The 25th anniversary celebration of the passage of the Americans for Disabilities Act will be recognized in 2015.

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"An Evening of A cappella" will be held Saturday at 8 p.m., at Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton. Lafayette's student-led a cappella vocal groups – Cadence, Chorduroys, and Soulfege – welcome guest school ensembles in the 11th annual celebration to benefit Friends of Lafayette Music and the Daniel P. O'Neil '06 Memorial Fund. The concert is being presented by the Lafayette College Arts Society.

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Violin soloist Midori makes her debut with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra in a program, "Experience Midori!" on Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. Music selections include Smetana's "The Moldau," Bartok's "Violin Concerto No. 2," and Brahms' "Symphony No. 2."

Midori, born in Japan, was 11 when she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta. She since went on to play with major orchestras around the world. She currently chairs the string department at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music. She also started a foundation that supports music education, plus an orchestra residency program with American youth orchestras.

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Christmas music definitely is in the air with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem. This year features a special CD release and signing event for "A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem" on Sunday at 3 p.m., at the Moravian Book Shop in downtown Bethlehem. On hand will be Greg Funfgeld, artistic director and conductor of The Bach Choir. Members of the Bel Canto Children's Chorus will perform a cappella Christmas selections, plus student poets of Freemansburg Elementary School will read poems from the recording.

Funfgeld serves as narrator on the CD that includes carols spanning seven centuries and five languages, as well as poems and stories that take the listener from Bethlehem in the Holy Land to diverse Christmas traditions of Bethlehem, Pa., in the present day.

Music for "A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem" was chosen by Funfgeld as The Bach Choir is joined by the Bel Canto Children's Chorus, under the direction of Joy Ondra Hirokawa. Thomas Goeman is assistant conductor and accompanist of the Bach Choir on organ and piano. The spoken word was compiled by Bridget George and directed by Bill George. Voices are by adults and by students of Freemansburg Elementary School.

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The "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas" tour visits the Lehigh Valley on Friday at 7:30 p.m., at the State Theatre in Easton, in a show specially created by Grammy Award-winner and founder Chip Davis. Multimedia effects will be accompanied by the signature sound of Mannheim Steamroller in the spirit of the season.

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Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award-winning actor John Lithgow presents his one-man theatrical memoir, "Stories by the Heart," on Saturday at 8 p.m., at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. Lithgow will be interspersing his own story with two stories read to him as a child – Uncle Fred Flits" by P.G. Wodehouse and "Haircut" by Ring Larder.

Lithgow's one-man show, created for The Lincoln Center Theater Company, has been touring the country. He also is the author of children's and young adults' books.

In conjunction with the performance, Mary Wright of the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild will share stories at 7 p.m. Wright has more than 20 years of experience in both theater and storytelling.

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