All posts by swurster

MEDICAL MOMENTS WITH STEVE: IT WORKED!

IT WORKED!

by Steve Goldfinger

On a sweltering August morning in 1944, I sat outside the door of Camp Kee Wah Kee’s infirmary.  I remember the rough wooden bench, the buzzing of horse flies, and—above all—the excruciating headache and fever that had brought me there.

Hours later, my Uncle Dick arrived to put me in his car and take me home. On the way, I asked what was happening.

“Well, there’s a polio epidemic,” he said, “and the camp is closing.”

Just the word polio provided a major scare at that time, but I honestly do not remember how frightened I was during that ride home. I may not have realized that my headache was caused by the polio virus, which I associated only with life-long paralysis.  Later, I learned that three of the seven other kids in my bunk had been so afflicted.  As I later learned, fewer than 1% of infections cause paralytic polio.

*

On a cool evening in the summer of 1955, a long line of dad’s patients—children and adults—filed from the front door of our house, down the flagstone path, and onto a stretch of sidewalk beyond. They were all healthy and were there in order to remain that way. Once they entered the house, they would go through the waiting room and into the office. Dad then inoculated each of them with a dose of the just-released vaccine pioneered by the decade’s hero, Jonas Salk. Inoculation programs were underway all over the city.

*

One day in the 1980s, I was nabbed by a young doctor in training who was perplexed by one of the questions on the national board examination he had just taken. It described a young man who developed fever, then muscle pains, and, later, progressive weakness of both legs. There had been no loss of sensation in the legs. My trainee said he had never seen or been taught about such a case, and he couldn’t imagine what the correct answer was.

That’s how effective that vaccination program had been.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!

 

STORIES FROM STEVE: A FANTASY DINNER PARTY

THE MORE EXOTIC THE BETTER

by Steve Goldfinger

I like food—the more exotic the better.  So, who would I invite to a fantasy dinner party?

Marcus Gavius Apicius, Emperor Elagabalus, and William Buckland—only if they brought their chefs along to prepare their meals.  And Mahatma Gandhi, so I could see his face as he watched the others feast.

Apicius, a first century Roman, is renowned for his imaginative delectables. He brought culinary artistry to new realms, feeding his guests lark tongue pie, flamingo tongue, dolphin meatballs, jellyfish omelets, and boiled parrot. Homage to the chef!

Elagabalus, the depraved boy emperor, lived but 21 years. After his guests enjoyed such savories as camel heels, parrot heads, nightingale tongue, peacock brains, and mice baked in poppies and honey, they would disgorge themselves in order to have a second round of the same. Elagapalus liked surprise endings.  At the end of one food orgy, several of the gourmands remarked on how pleasant it would be if they could then be smothered under the scent of roses. Elagabalus obliged. At the end of their very next feast, he had them suffocated to death by tons of rose petals. He was known for concluding other banquets by unleashing wild animals on his thoroughly stuffed guests.

Second thoughts about inviting this lad.

William Buckland, Vicar and Professor of Geology at Oxford University in the 19th century, was also a man of dietary oddities: rodents, crocodiles, hedgehogs, moles, roast joint of bear, puppy, and his most historic swallowed morsel—the embalmed heart of King Louis XIV that had  been stolen from the king’s tomb and eventually came his way. When asked how the king’s heart tasted, Buckland replied that it would have gone a bit better with gravy prepared from the blood of a marmoset. Although he claimed he would eat anything organic, the vicar once admitted he could not be tempted to have a second helping of stewed housefly.

So I’m looking at Gandhi, seated in front of his goat milk, orange, nuts, stewed vegetables and concoction of ginger, lemons, strained butter, and aloe juice.

He is looking at me.

Shall I offer him a spoonful of my matzoh ball soup?

God, if I do, he might want me to try his concoction.

Better lie low.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger 

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: STRANGER THINGS…

Stranger Things: 80s Films Redux

 by Dennis Greene

The enormous number of big-budget, high quality original TV series being produced by HBO, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others makes it tough for even committed pop culture junkies to keep up.  I didn’t become aware of Netflix’s science fiction-horror thriller Stranger Things until more than a year after Season 2 was released in October, 2017.  But the story is so compelling that it was easy for an old retired guy like me, after golf season, to binge watch all 17 one-hour episodes in a week or two.

The first season, set in the early 1980s, focuses on the unexplained disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy in fictional Hawkins, Indiana.  Will’s hysterical mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, and her high school friend Jim Hopper, now the local Police Chief played by David Harbour, organize a search for the missing boy.  But the main focus of the series is on Will’s small group of geeky, Dungeons and Dragons playing middle school age friends Michael, Lucas and Dustin, who are joined by a mysterious young girl with strange powers. Together, they begin their own investigation into their friend’s disappearance.

The relationships among this group of science and fantasy-oriented sleuths reminded me of Elliot and his friends in E.T. or the boys in Stand By Me. In many ways, the group was also similar to the young Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts.  While facing unspeakable and overpowering evil and observing occurrences beyond the scope of human understanding, the boys also worry about who has a crush on whom, what Halloween costume to wear, who will be Dr. Venkman, and if they have packed enough snack food as they set off to battle monsters from a parallel dimension. The story includes the usual secret and sinister government project, the complex social life of the boys’ older siblings, dysfunctional family relationships, lots of slimy and repulsive monsters in dark and forbidding places, a wonderful science teacher, several deaths and enough references to Newtonian and theoretical physics, telekinesis, and psychology to keep the story grounded in reality.   The series is so well written and directed, and the cast is so talented, that I found myself really caring about a score of characters.

Certainly Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will, and their new friend El (for “Eleven”) are at the top of that list.  Each heroic in his or her own way.  Most of these kids are new faces, but Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, will probably look familiar.  He is a younger version of the curly haired, precocious  boy who now preaches the benefits of Fios in Verizon’s current TV ads. This ensemble won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance in a Drama Series in 2016. The series also received 31 Emmy Award  and four Golden Globe nominations.

The series was created and written by twins Matt and Ross Duffer, known as the Duffer Brothers. They pitched the script to about fifteen cable networks who all rejected it because the plot centered around children as leading characters and would not appeal to older viewers.  Suggestions were made to make it a children’s series or drop the kids and concentrate on the sheriff’s investigation of the paranormal.  But the Duffers, believing in what they had created, teamed with Shawn Levy and successfully sold it to Netflix for an undisclosed amount.

The series has been greatly influenced by, and pays homage to, the great science fiction and horror films of the 1980s. To pitch the film, the Duffer Brothers showcased images, footage, and music from films like E.T, Close Encounters, Poltergeist, Stand By Me,  Nightmare on Elm StreetJaws, and Alien.  It offers both a riveting and charming story in its own right, but it also provides nostalgic reminders of those captivating sci-fi and horror films we have enjoyed over the past three decades.  The Duffers have clearly paid homage to Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Steven King, and Wes Craven.  And I consider that a good thing.

I suspect this show isn’t for everyone. It’s best if you are a fifteen-year-old science fiction or fantasy fan or can still suspend your disbelief to think and feel like one. If you enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A Wrinkle in Time, Stand By Me or The Golden Compass, or if you are a Steven King fan, you will probably enjoy Stranger Things. If you read all of The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

We are presented with so many rich characters in this story that everyone should be able to identify with at least a few of the central characters and hopefully experience the adventure with them. That’s what makes speculative fiction fun.

The character I most identified with was Dustin. In Episode 6 of the first season, Lucas leaves the group in anger after a fight with Mike, and Dustin attempts to convince Mike to find Lucas and reconcile:

Dustin: “This is weird without Lucas.”

Mike:    “He should have shaken my hand.”

Dustin: “He’s just jealous.”

Mike:     “What are you talking about?”

Dustin:  “Sometimes your total obliviousness blows my mind. He’s your best  friend, right?”

Mike:     “Yeah, I mean, I don’t know.”

Dustin:   “It’s fine. I get it. I didn’t get here until fourth grade. He had the advantage of living next door. But none of that matters. What matters is, he is your best friend, and then this girl shows up and starts living in your basement, and all you want to do is pay attention to her.”

Mike:     “That’s not true.”

Dustin:   “Yes it is. And you know it, and he knows it. But no one says anything until you two start punching and yelling at each other like goblins with intelligence scores of zero. Now everything is weird.”

Mike:     “He is not my best friend.”

Dustin:   “Yeah, right.”

Mike:      “He is, but so are you, and so is Will.”

Dustin:    “You can’t have more than one best friend.”

Mike:        “Says who?”

Dustin:      “Says logic.”

Mike:         “Blow your logic, because you are my best friend too.”

Dustin:       “O. K.”

I was the new kid who moved to town in the middle of third grade after all the “best friend” slots were filled.   After 60 years, it still bothers me a little. This passage made me both admire Dustin and also feel sorry for him.

Season 4 has already been filmed and is expected to be released some time next summer, so you have plenty of time to catch up on the first three seasons before then.

Welcome to Hawkins, Indiana–if you dare!

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since. 

WHAT’S ON LARRY’S MIND? DIGITALLY ARRANGED DINNER DATING

DIGITALLY ARRANGED DINNER DATING

by Larry Schwirian

Writers Guild Prompt:  Dinner Date

I have never had occasion to go on a romantic dinner date with anyone other than my wife.  She and I were classmates and friends for three years before we started dating, so we already knew each other pretty well.  I never had to worry about what I could or couldn’t say with her because I already knew many of her likes and dislikes.  Plus, while we were still in school, there wasn’t a lot of money for going out to dinner anyway. Going out for pizza, taking a trip to the art museum, or going to an occasional movie were more typical of our dates. As I had a full class load and drove a cab part time while in school, I didn’t have a lot of time for dating anyway.

I’ve never given a great deal of thought to what it must be like, as a full-fledged adult, to sit down for a nice dinner with an unfamiliar female companion just for the sake of getting to know one-another…it must really be awkward.

Imagining what it might be like for a young adult in today’s digital world, all kinds of questions come to mind…

Who wrote the algorithm that paired the two of us as compatible, and what were the primary traits or answers to questions that resulted in this pairing?  Did she research me on the web and find out what a dweeb I really am…I hope she at least learned that I’m not a direct descendent of Jack the Ripper.  I Googled her, but my search gave me dozens of women with the same name. Why did she pick me instead of dozens of others…or was it the algorithm? Should I be my normal, boring self, or should I pretend to be what I’d really like to be?  Was the photo she sent really of her?  Was it current,  or was it ten years old?  Should I let her start the conversation, or should I be bold and jump right in with both feet? Is she looking for a significant other, or is she just looking for a good time?  And what am I looking for?

Maybe we should begin the conversation by agreeing on a “safe word” that will allow either of us to bail-out if questions become too personal.

Why am I doing this?

I don’t envy young people.  Dating–along with everything else these days–has just become too complicated.

BOLLI Matters feature writer and Writers Guild co-chair, Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.  

MEMOIR FROM DONNA: THE BACK PORCH

THE BACK PORCH

by Donna Johns

I used to have a back porch.

The house on Sycamore Street was rickety around the edges, full of horsehair plaster and faded midcentury wallpaper. The plumbing rattled, the old gas stove belched, the lights flickered. Spindles on the front staircases were frequently kicked out by active children racing up and down. The old house swayed in high winds but never broke.

Off the kitchen, with its decaying tile, was my back porch. It was long and narrow with a wide plank floor and four large windows. It was on the second floor, so the view out the windows was at tree level. In the spring, dogwood blossoms spread out like a quilt of pale green and white and pink. In the summer, lush green branches sang in soft breezes. Autumn was gaudy with scarlets and yellows. Winter’s bare branches, encased in ice, scraped against the windows and sent me inside for a month or two.

I had a phone on the porch. With it I negotiated with my dentist to pay over time for the children’s dental care, prevailed upon the electric company to accept a partial payment, begged the oil company for a small delivery to tide us over until pay day. I had a computer on the porch so I could work a second and third job, using my research skills to bring in much needed money.

The proximity of the porch to the kitchen came in handy when little thieves would grab the refrigerator door handle in search of lunch meat, bread, fruit.  I guarded the food fiercely, for there was no money for more. They were well fed only because my parents or my favorite uncle would drop by every week or so with grocery bags brimming with healthy basics and decadent treats.

My coffee pot was close by for frequent refills. I would drink from my mug, smoke a cigarette, and steer the family ship past one obstacle, then another, and another.  New shoes (three sizes in one year?), highwater pants (can I let the hem down?), field trips (you need how much money by tomorrow?).

But my porch was also a place for me to read, to write, to dream. One child or another would escape the noise that permeated the house to sit on the porch with me, confide a sorrow or a triumph, or just enjoy companionable silence among the trees. Cats stretched out on the window sill, chattering at birds.

I don’t have a porch any more. Just a utilitarian step to the sidewalk. The children are all gone to their own lives. But I have the memory of that porch and a challenging life well lived.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.

STORIES FROM STEVE: RITES OF PASSAGE

RITES OF PASSAGE

by Steve Goldfinger

I spent about two months learning to chant strange sounds in a way that would meet with the rabbi’s approval. It was my Torah rendition for my bar mitzvah at temple Pri Eitz Chaim, the ultra-orthodox synagogue on Ocean Avenue. The chant came off well enough, but my grandfather was not in the congregation to hear it.  He was in an oxygen tent set up on his bed in his small apartment.

My grandfather Emil Goldfinger was a pillar among the elders of Pri Eitz Chaim and the reason for my six years of Hebrew school torture in its airless, foul-smelling basement four afternoons a week plus Friday nights and Sunday mornings.  My parents only entered the synagogue on high holy days. The rest of the year, they never so much as lit candles on Friday night.  But for my grandfather’s sake, they sent me to Hebrew school.

My resentment was evident in the classroom.

I was painfully slow in speed reading Hebrew during competitions. I never even tried to understand Mr. Ben-Ezra’s instructions to the class, spoken in Hebrew–except perhaps shev ba kiseh, which meant “sit down in your seat.” I sometimes confused the holidays and never understood Tisha b’av.   Plus, I gave Hadassah Cohen murderous looks when she ripped out the page with the nude picture of Adam and Eve before passing out new textbooks.

My Hebrew name, Simcha, means “Joy,” and there were quizzical looks on my teachers’ faces when they called upon “Simcha” to answer their questions.

My parents remembered me sometimes sitting on the curb outside the synagogue with a forlorn look just before going inside for my ninety minutes of confinement. Little did they know that I had 40 cents in my pocket for a pastrami sandwich at Ruby’s which I would bolt down before arriving at Pri Eitz Chaim.

A tiny victory came at last, in my final year, when Rabbi Turk called me into his office and suggested I take off one day a week.

I did manage to graduate…with a 29% average. Recently, I chanced upon a faded copy of the graduation program, which said it all. Of the eleven of us at that crowning ceremony, ten received prizes of one sort or another.

However, they did spell my name correctly.

But surely it was the bar mitzvah, not the graduation, that was my rite of passage.

Emil Goldfinger’s rite of passage came five days later with his final breath…

Chanting was again heard.

 

BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!

 

WHAT’S DONNA’S STORY? A RANT…

METEOROLOGISTS

by Donna Johns

They’re at it again.

Hunkered in my recliner, I was cheerfully wasting an hour immersed in General Hospital. Will Sonny and Carly’s baby be all right, or does it have birth defects? When will they discover that baby Wiley, adopted by Brad and Dylan, is actually Michael’s son? And who pushed Liesel off the boat during Liz and Franco’s wedding?

Then it starts. Frantic Breaking News music. The meteorologist on duty quivers in excitement, his voice an octave higher than normal. “We are interrupting this broadcast to warn you of a string of thunderstorms bearing down on us.”

No kidding. It’s 90 degrees out, and you can cut the humidity with a knife. Of course there are going to be thunderstorms. That’s why I ran my errands early and planned on a quiet hour in Port Charles, watching characters with big problems to be unraveled and solved in six months.

Anyone who’s been on the planet for a few years knows from personal experience that heat and humidity mean that thunderstorms will follow.  So, pray tell, what new information do you have to impart to me,  Mr. Meteorologist?

“The storms are forming in Western Massachusetts.”  Yep. They usually do.

“Strong winds, torrential downpours, thunder, and lightning.”  Sounds like a thunderstorm to me.

“The storms will move east through Worcester and Central Massachusetts. They should arrive in the Boston area by four o’clock.”  Marginally useful information. So I should be able to finish General Hospital before the storms hits and the power fails. Candle, lighter, and flashlight are on the table, just in case.

“There may be power outages. Prepare with candles and flashlights.”  Duh.  Can I watch my soap opera now?

Mr. Meteorologist’s voice begins to shake slightly.  I swear his upper lip is trembling. “There is a chance of flash flooding. Also tornadoes.”  He looks anxiously at his radar screen.  Despite my abundant common sense, I quickly check to make sure I have sufficient toilet paper, milk, and bread to survive the coming apocalypse.

“We will update you as the situation warrants.  And now, we return you to our regular programming.” Finally! After four commercials designed for the elderly (reverse mortgages, laxatives, life insurance, compression stockings), General Hospital resumes.

Ten minutes later, at 2:30, the thunderstorm moves into Waltham.  Mr. Meteorologist reappears as thunder shakes the windows and lightning illuminates the living room. “The storms should reach the greater Boston area by 4:00.”

I turn the TV off.

I long for the good old days when Don Kent would check his barometer, poke his head out the door to scan the skies, and deliver a calm and mostly accurate weather forecast.  Those days, alas, are gone for good. Now we have computer models, hysterical meteorologists, and wildly inaccurate forecasts.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.

ANOTHER SIG UPDATE: BOLLI PHOTOGRAPHY GROUP

On Friday, November 15th,  the BOLLI Photography Group had our final meeting of the term.  We viewed and discussed the photographs members had submitted for review on a large screen in the Green Room.   Some of the submissions were from our fall field trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery led by Helen Abrams while others were of sporting events, autumn scenes, travel shots, and family events.

On December 13, the group went on another field trip, this time to the MFA where Joanne Fortunato says “we had the privilege of having Karen Haas, a curator at the museum who is responsible for researching and putting exhibits together.  She gave us a tour of the Howard Greenberg Collection of photography.  It was a wonderful exhibit, and Karen was fabulous!”

According to the museum’s website, the Howard Greenberg Collection of 447 photographs by 191 artists “includes iconic European masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s as well as a wide range of socially conscious works—powerful visual testimonies of Depression-era America, politically engaged street photography, exceptional examples of wartime photojournalism, and poignant depictions of African American life from the 1930s through the Civil Rights movement. Integrating these photographs into the MFA’s collection allows the Museum to explore fresh narratives, bring new insights and perspectives to current issues, and celebrate photography as an art form as well as a social, cultural and political force.”

Organizers: Helen Abrams, Karen Haas, Joanne Fortunato and Jennifer Coplon.

The group’s meetings are a fun way for members to gather and demonstrate their skills as well as subjects they enjoy photographing.  And, of course, the field trips are always memorable!

The BPG is opened to all who enjoy photography.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Friday, January 17th, 12:30 – 2 pm in the Green Room.

 

LINES FROM LYDIA: THE OFFICE FRIDGE

THE OFFICE FRIDGE

by Lydia Bogar

During my third year in the State Fire Marshal’s Office, we moved into a new, super-efficient LEED green building. The HVAC system required constant care by a team of facilities managers and Haz Mat techs who broke into a cold sweat anytime there was a drastic weather change.  If a July day reached over one hundred degrees, the pumps crashed. If there had been an ice storm, space heaters would be brought in for the corridors and the receptionist in the main lobby.  A $43 million building.

They couldn’t regulate the temperature, but they gave us a fabulous break room. There was shelving for paper and other supplies, a copier that could scan documents into a fax or over to your desktop, and a stainless steel, 26 cubic foot Whirlpool refrigerator with an ice making freezer on top.  It was a beautiful thing to behold—especially after twelve years of having my Charleston Chews kidnapped from an only semi-cold little box fridge.

During the summer, the freezer held popsicles and ice cream.

There were birthday cakes during every season.

There were also cartons of milk and cream for those who didn’t have the grit to drink their coffee black.

There was a package of coffee beans that Dave brought back from a trip to Jamaica.

There were tomatoes and wax beans from Jake’s garden. The tomatoes vanished quickly; not so much the beans.

We had a middle shelf for “community food” that anyone could eat, but never on a Monday. That’s where the leftovers lived from our Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras potluck lunch in 2012, the leftovers that weren’t finished until Thursday because most of us were Catholic.  We could all swear like sailors, but we observed Ash Wednesday because our grandmothers were watching us from heaven.

The containers on the lower shelf were labeled with names and an occasional Haz Mat sticker.  First responders have some funky ideas about food–high carb, high fat, and as much sodium as a diner on the on the Jersey Pike at midnight.  Cold pizza is better than hot pizza, and any sandwich is considered edible until it turns green.

The vegetable bins at the bottom usually held Halloween candy, until they were cleaned out around Memorial Day, usually by me.

This retired Girl Scout Cookie Mother had reached her ultimate calling:  Office Mom.

BOLLI feature writer and Writers Guild co-chair Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says she “hails from Woosta– educated at BOLLI.”

CAST MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN SPOLIN WORKSHOP

THE POWER OF PLAY

By Sue Wurster

Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher of both improvisational theater and creative writing.  She is the granddaughter of theatre academic, educator, and acting coach Viola Spolin who is considered an important innovator in 20th century American theatre for having created directorial techniques to help actors to be focused in the present moment and to find choices improvisationally, as if in real life.   Spolin’s collection of theatre games, in fact,  has long been considered the drama teacher’s “Bible.”

Aretha’s father, Paul Sills, carried on his mother’s work and was the creator and director of  Chicago’sThe Second City, the first professional improvisation company in the U.S., and, later, the acclaimed Story Theatre.  (The three generation are pictured below. )

Aretha studied theater games for many years with her father (and has conducted workshops for his Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Bard College, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Stockholm International School, Sarah Lawrence College, and Northwestern University. She has worked with Tony and Emmy Award winning actors and has trained faculty from Northwestern, DePaul, Columbia College, The Second City, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and many other schools and institutions.  She is the Associate Director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and directs The Predicament Players. She created and directs an improvised show for Enrichment Works, a non-profit bringing theater that inspires learning into Los Angeles public schools.

Aretha also gives talks on how improvisational theater in the United States emerged out of Progressive-era social reforms in Chicago, particularly Neva Boyd’s Recreational Training School at Hull House.  In her essay “The Theory of Play,” Boyd wrote: “Social living cannot be maintained on the basis of destructive ideologies – domination, hate, prejudice, greed and dishonesty. A society cannot hold together without a good way of life for all… Virtues are dynamic products and cannot be taken over, fully developed, without being continuously developed.”

Neva Boyd

Games, as both women knew, help children learn language skills, socialization, cooperation, and even morality, because all must agree on the rules and abide by them for a game to be any fun. In addition, the act of playing changes the participant.  Boyd wrote: “Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Spolin’s work with actors was deeply rooted in Boyd’s beliefs.

In October, Aretha conducted a weekend long workshop in Watertown, which BOLLI CAST members Richard Averbuch, Sandy Clifford, Becki Norman, and Sue Wurster attended.  All four were challenged and inspired by the work.

Richard, who has acted and improvised professionally himself, says that the experience served as a vivid reminder that there is wonderful possibility and vitality involved in the act of playing games – it helps us reconnect with the child inside.  “It’s also so encouraging to see that you can gather a group of (mostly) strangers, and, within no time, you can play and explore acting with them.  It jump-starts the process of getting to know someone.  We’re asked to trust that inspiration will come from our intuitive selves and by connecting with other actors, especially when engaged in movement.

Sandy says that she found the Spolin workshop “fabulous.”  Aretha created a safe and supportive space which allowed us to take risks and have fun “playing” childhood games like Red Light, Green Light and other old favorites.   They relaxed everyone and got us into that playful childlike space.  No right or wrong was established early on.  Focus was an important theme for me, really focusing on your partner or the task you were doing helped to keep a scene real.
Aretha also kept asking us to really see what we were doing and to keep heightening it.  That exercise was fascinating because, in the heightening, things often became transformed.  It was fascinating to see that happening with other people.  I would love to take another workshop with her, Sandy said.

 For Becki, taking part in the Spolin Workshop was a fun and enlightening experience.  As someone who had never participated in a workshop like this, at first, I was wondering what I was getting myself into.  But participating in CAST and Scene-iors at BOLLI gave me the confidence to take the next step.  What was surprising to me was how much I enjoyed it and how comfortable I was.  Improv is very different from straight acting. It is so spontaneous, while “straight acting” involves a different kind of preparation and a script. Both, however, need the players to get “out of the box” and temporarily be someone entirely different from themselves. That is not easy, but I did manage, and learn, to do it.  What was special, on a personal level, is how all 16 of us, most of whom did not know each other, became a community, and, by the time we left, we were friends.  The reliance and support for each other was wonderful.  Overall, it was a rewarding experience, one that will help me in future productions.  I know I have gained more respect for those who do improvisation!

And for Sue, the workshop was a chance to reconnect with play in an entirely different way.  “When he moved to New York City to found The New Actors Workshop with Mike Nichols, Paul and his wife enrolled their younger daughter Neva at the Calhoun School where I was the drama teacher.  That year, Paul gave me the incomparable gift of enrollment in his improvisation course, which I relished, particularly for what I took away to apply to my own teaching and directing.  Working with Aretha, so many years later, was a wonderful experience, an opportunity to see Paul’s older daughter in action, carrying on the family ‘business’ with such grace, generosity of spirit, and depth of understanding.  Her father and grandmother are surely looking down at her with enormous pride.”

It was a memorable workshop and a terrific way to spend a kong weekend!

BOLLI “Matters” editor. Sue Wurster

Theatre, drama, speech, debate and all things word-centered have led many to refer to Sue as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”