An interview with Debra Block, NCCAP (National Council for Certification of Activities Professionals), Life Enhancement Coordinator, 6W Berenson, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center
Debra Block recently joined HSL as the Life Enhancement Coordinator on the newly renovated sixth floor west of the Berenson Allen building on Hebrew Rehabilitation Center’s (HRC) Roslindale campus. She has introduced an interactive theater and film program for patients at HRC. I sat down with her recently to learn more about her work with patients and the therapeutic value of theater arts.
JD: What brought you to HRC?
DB: I spent much of my early career as a theater director and educator with children, teens and young adults. Fifteen years ago I wanted to try something new and became an Activities Director of an assisted living community in Newton where I discovered that I enjoyed working with seniors.
Currently my father is a resident at Center Communities of Brookline, a Hebrew SeniorLife community in Brookline, MA, and that is one of the reasons I became interested in bringing my experience in theater arts to HRC.
Before I joined the Life Enhancement Team, I worked as an independent theater artist specializing in bringing interactive theater to senior living communities. In 2015, I staged my first one-hour musical theatre production, Fiddler on the Roof, at HRC NewBridge and at Center Communities of Brookline. The residents, some in their 90s, rehearsed for at least 3 months, thoroughly enjoyed themselves and did a wonderful job. It was so fulfilling to watch them blossom through creative expression and interpretation of their roles.
My next project was a production with residents who lived in the skilled nursing community at Orchard Cove, an HSL continuing retirement community in Canton. Ruth Edinberg, an Orchard Cove patient had been involved professionally in the theater. She had written a musical in her past called the Courtship of Maurice B. Friedman. I worked to stage the production with residents as the cast, which involved adapting the script to the abilities of those involved. Performing arts students from Canton High School were also involved adding multigenerational interaction. The production was a significant investment of energy and work for staff and participants, and included scenery and set changes. Everyone involved looked forward to getting together for rehearsals – adding meaning to their lives. This was an enriching experience for Ruth. For the duration of the project she became the person she had been in her past professional life – the person she had been.
JD: Tell me about your plans in your new role.
DB: I plan to offer an interactive theatre program, which has two components:
- A 1.5 hour program in which participants discuss plot and theme, character analysis and identification using reminiscing exercises and music. Discussions touch on historical, intellectual and personal meaning and significance of selected productions;
- Script in hand performance.
JD: What are the therapeutic benefits of programs like this one?
DB: The theater arts have tremendous therapeutic value for participants and provide opportunity for:
- Empowerment –giving patients a voice
- Self Expression
- Unlocking Memories
- Enhancing Cognition
- Creating “joy in the moment”
I'm in the process of choosing the next musical to cast, and am considering Showboat or West Side Story because of the productions’ social relevance to issues we still grapple with today, and the shows contain music that many patients recall from their past. Participants will perform in front of peers and families. The project will require 3-4 months of bi-weekly activity for patients.