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Social inclusion via an ancient art form: teens, elders, and a play that brought them together

ASHEVILLE -- The irony was perfect: outside the front door of Asheville’s NC Stage Company, teenagers were skateboarding down Walnut Street, an elder’s classic stereotype of adolescence if there ever was one. Inside, a different group of teens (and elders) were creating and putting on a performance––“Mind the Gap”––about breaking down such stereotypes.

“Mind the Gap” is a performance that changes with each group, because it is created from the stories of individuals within that group. The “gap” refers to the age gap between young and old, a gap that can disappear quickly in the right circumstances.

The cast members had met for the first time just five days previously. Each person had volunteered to become part of an impromptu acting troupe that met daily at NC Stage Co. The Mountain Region AARP was one of the sponsors of this five-day event, believing that “Mind the Gap” would be a fun, yet powerful, way to address two of the eight domains of community livability––social participation and respect and inclusion. Buncombe County joined the network of Age-Friendly Communities in 2017.

At its most

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basic, the five-day inter-generational theater workshop was a chance for young and old to talk. As participants interviewed each other and shared their stories, they learned about listening, respect, and trust. Each evening after the actors left, the visiting facilitators from NC Stage Company spent hours shaping the stories and interviews into a performance. On Friday night, an enthusiastic audience of family, friends, and fans saw and heard the final product.

That night, AARP volunteers posted a listening board in the theater’s lobby, where actors and audience members could respond to this question: “Why are inter-generational experiences important?” Answers ranged from humorous (“We all need more drama!”) to heartfelt: “Connection and community-building are vital.”

Rebecca Chaplain, AARP Associate Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the NC Mountain Region, also interviewed some of the participants, like 17-year-old Lacey, who found herself discarding stereotypes about elders in the course of the five days: “It’s theater; anybody can do anything,” she enthused. “A lot of those older folk can really get down on the floor and dance!”

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