A group of elderly people stare intently at a cup plunger placed on a small table before them at the Ħamrun day care centre.
“This is generally used for unclogging sinks or bathtubs,” theatre practitioner Charlotte Stafrace tells the group. “But I would like each of you to re-imagine another use for the object and act it out. The rest of us will try and guess what you’re fashioning out the object to be.”
An elderly woman walks to the table and picks up the plunger.
“This is an excellent tool for unblocking Karmenu’s ears,” she quips, drawing a roar of laughter from the room.
Ms Stafrace, 50, set up Active Age, a drama-based project aimed at the physical, social and emotional development and wellbeing of senior citizens.
Every week I try to challenge them to move out of their comfort zones
Funded by the Premju tal-President (Community), the workshops provide the opportunity for fun, learning and gentle exercise within a comfortable, supportive and creative environment.
“Change is difficult at every age very much so at this third age. But I feel that every week I try to challenge them to move out of their comfort zones. Of course they still bring what they feel they are good at, but I try to channel that into a different ‘space’ for them to explore,” Ms Stafrace says, as the plunger consecutively becomes a candle, loudspeaker, bell and stethoscope at the hands of different participants.
Ms Stafrace, who first rolled out the project in November, explains that she tries to build on previous sessions, adding something new every time.
“It’s great when a particular exercise tickles them and they are all, for a bit of time, engaged and focused on something of sheer enjoyment.”
Turning to the group, she asks them to imagine that they are walking down Valletta’s Republic Street where they run into another person. Their greeting will be moulded around the type of character she instructs them to play.
“You will run into someone you haven’t seen in a very long time,” she explains.
Instantly, the elderly participants embrace each other amid delighted exclamations to the general tune of: “It’s been so long since I’ve last seen you.”
That is, except for one creative man, who blurts out: “Hey there – I thought you had died!” sending the group into peals of laughter.
Mercedes Delia, 74, tells Times of Malta that she keenly awaits the weekly sessions. “We carry out some exercise, we bring along old photographs and items to make into a memory box, we sing songs and also act out little playlets we come up with ourselves.”
Similarly, Joey Cordina, a 72-year-old widower, looks forward to weekly sessions.
“What’s great is that these sessions bring out a person’s personality and creativity. I’m often surprised with the fascinating life story many people have.
“I feel that the biggest problem in Malta is solitude. Lonely people exist in all strata of society. I once met an elderly man who was so lonely that he would sit on a bench in Floriana just to hear people talking among themselves and hoping against hope that someone would utter a word to him.
“The authorities need to seek out such lonely people, many of whom are widows and widowers, and help draw them out of their homes.”
The workshops are supported by the Active Ageing Unit within the Department for the Elderly and Community Care.