How arts can touch people in unexpected ways

Jeff Hayes plays the character Bottom in the production

In Redmond or anywhere, the question often arises, “In this economy, why fund the arts?”

Well, starving artists, actors, musicians and dancers don’t spend money on computers, clothes or trips to restaurants. Unemployment hurts the community, whether jobs are lost at Microsoft, Genie Industries or an arts organization.

But here at the Redmond Reporter, we also hear anecdotes about how the arts touch residents old or young in unexpected ways.

A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

Jeff Hayes, a recent grad of Redmond High School (RHS) and recipient of a Redmond Drama Boosters scholarship for 2009, has used his performing arts training to delight and soothe elderly residents at Emerald Heights Retirement Community.

“With all the residents, knowledge of theater is helpful … as I’m more knowledgeable of major stars of their era than the average high school student,” said Hayes. “This is especially helpful with residents in the memory support program, as reminiscing about anything from their past, including major stars of the time, can help ‘stretch’ their brain muscles.”

For assisted living residents, “we’ve found a fun activity in reading scripted works aloud in large groups,” he noted.

Hayes’ “improv” skills have shown him how to “join in the world of your scene partner,” even when you can’t immediately understand their frame of mind.

“Often, I’ll be accosted by an angry resident yelling about something that makes no sense to me or approached by a rather scared-looking resident looking for their mother. In both of these situations, it’s important never to bring the resident out of their current reality too suddenly,” he explained.

But “one way to break the scene is to probe the resident with questions and details about what they’re talking about. Nine times out of ten, they’ll eventually begin to realize the circumstances they’ve been talking about have been made up, and they will remember where they are.”

And the relationships aren’t one-sided.

Hayes said he’s grateful for the older friends he’s made in his volunteer work at Emerald Heights.

Especially working with memory support patients, “they are very forgiving, though that may be because they forget your mistakes,” he commented.

“And they are very adventurous. By hanging out with my memory support friends, I’ve been involved in more unique and exciting scenarios than most major actors have in their feature films. I’ve been a president getting new information on a health care plan from a local druggist and part-time cowboy. I’ve been the first airline pilot to make a commercial flight to a new planet. And oddly enough, I’ve been somebody’s mother. How many professional actors have done all those roles, eh?”

Best-known for playing Bottom in the RHS production of “A Midsummer Night’s Summer Dream,” Hayes has made several trips to the International Thespian Festival, will be featured in this summer’s Young Americans Theatre Company activities in Seattle, and this fall, will attend Southern Oregon University in Ashland, home of the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He will major in theatre while also pursuing interests in business and psychology.

A PATHWAY TO PRODUCTIVITY

RHS senior Thomas Moore, a veteran of several productions at Seattle Children’s Theatre and RHS shows including “Oklahoma!” and “Urinetown,” is performing this summer with Seattle’s Young Americans Theatre Company and also volunteering in drama programs at the Old Fire House Teen Center in Redmond.

“Thomas has this quiet demeanor that is very insightful and full of creative energy,” said Ken Wong, teen programs director for the City of Redmond.

“Teens drive the work that the teen center does. Our budgets don’t allow for much, so we rely heavily on volunteers to support and create programs with staff leads,” Wong noted.

“Programs like sports, drama, music, sculpture and other forms of creative expressions should always be a staple in all of our lives and especially in children and youth. It is always hard when budget decisions are made and we start throwing out words like ‘frivolous’ and ‘non-essential services.’ I always wonder, ‘If these programs change a person’s life or turn them around from a bad path or is their passion and drive, then how can it be frivolous?’ Arts are as important as public safety and when we do not have programs for youth that keeps their interest and encourages creativity, where does their energy turn?,” Wong pointed out.

Moore said he’s excited about trying out for the RHS fall musical, “Pippin.” He described the story as, “fun and engaging and the message is absolutely timeless. Everyone could benefit from seeing this show, especially young men seeking fame, fortune and glory, in the spirit of the title character.”

As a young person who’s serious about an acting career, Moore said it is “what I will still be trying to do in 10, 20 or 30 years. I think if you’ve loved something for as long as you’ve been doing it, and you’ve been doing it for more than half the years you’ve been alive … then it’s pretty clear that that’s what you’re going to want to be doing later in life.”

But how will he earn a living, if some people think arts funding is a waste of money?

“Of course I worry about my economic future,” said Moore. “It would be insane not to. However, I’ve reconciled with the possibility of living in a tent for most of my adult life, and having done that, I’m confident that the pursuit of my passion will continue to yield me, if not success, at least contentment with my lot.”

The City of Redmond has a thriving Arts Commission and they’re always eager to hear residents’ ideas. For more information, visit www.redmond.gov/arts.


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