Mind the Gap connects the young and the old through theater

By Max Friedlich11th Grade, Friends Seminary

Mind the Gap is a free, 10-session playwriting workshop for teenagers and senior citizens, created and run by  the New York Theatre Workshop, with the goal of merging artists and communities through theater. Now in its fourth year, “the Gap” pairs a half dozen students aged 60+, with an equal number aged 14-18.  Members of each inter-generational, teen/senior citizen pair shares his or her life with the other. Each then writes a play inspired by the life of the other. As a Mind the Gap alum, I can say personally that the results have been moving and artistically fruitful to all, transformational for most, and even life-changing for some. Teenager Allison Susser didn’t believe her life story was interesting enough to tell but she learned that ”what might seem insignificant to you is really moving or interesting to someone else.” “I realized after the interview process how therapeutic and rewarding it was to share my own story, to hear hers, and to ultimately share both with everyone else,” Susser said. From the other end of the generational spectrum, senior Bob Crisco had a wonderful time engaging with the youth. “It was easy to be open with interested teenagers and [I was] flattered by their sincere interest in me," he said. "It was fun as well as illuminating to enter world again and see it through the eyes of the current generation.” Senior citizen Elizabeth Young felt she had truly honest conversations with teenagers for the first time, despite having directed a youth program for 40 years. “I was continually inspired by the talent and creativity of the other writers in our group," she said. Yet Young also found the conversations “bittersweet, because I never experienced such openness within my own family. The Mind the Gap experience is a gift that keeps on giving.” Like Young, senior Elaine Rosenthal had recently retired from a lifelong career in the arts, but found creative renewal in the program. “I learned play writing from a pro," she said. "My teenage partner had an amazing mixed-family story to share with me. I wrote a one act play about her and her family, a play I was proud of and that had a reading at the NYTW! Perhaps most moving of all, senior citizen Casandra Niambi Steele credits “Mind the Gap” with helping her escape the homeless system after a series of setbacks, as well as inspiring her to begin writing and performing again. After struggling physically since being hit by a car, losing her job and becoming homeless, Steele said, "I can truly say that life after the Gap is looking rather much brighter.  And for all the light that was shone on me --- I've got to let it shine, let it shine--- let it SHINE!” Steele’s one-act piece is now a full-length play. She will be performing in a world premier of a new play called RIP.Tied this month. With stories of inspiration and improvement emerging from the Gap, Eleanor Herman put it best. “I don’t know who thought of the name “Mind the Gap,” she said,  “but it says it all.” When teens and seniors first meet in the program, says the youthful senior citizen, “there surely is a gap betwee minds.” But as they “begin to talk, guards down, face-to-face, the gap slowly closes, a small miracle happens.”