Young and old come together over drama at Fleetwood-Jourdain’s intergenerational YSTEP program. RoundTable photo

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This fall Fleetwood Youth & Senior Theater Ensemble Project (YSTEP) is celebrating its seventh year of bringing young people and older adults together for a collaborative storytelling and theater experience.  

YSTEP is the brainchild of Tim Rhoze, Fleetwood Jourdain’s Artistic Director, and is an intergenerational concept and program he holds dear. The program’s mission is to strengthen community by bridging gaps between generations through theater, community, and mutual respect.

“The catalyst for this intergenerational program took place some years ago,” said Mr. Rhoze.  

“I was at the McGaw Y and happened to observe a casual encounter between a young man, probably a pre-teen, and an older adult. I saw this small incident of impoliteness and disrespect as a missed opportunity for the two generations to connect.”  

Mr. Rhoze said the incident triggered memories of his growing up in a Detroit neighborhood where the adults all knew him and regularly engaged him in conversation.  “My idea for YSTEP – working to bridge a generational gap through theater – was a no-brainer for me, because discovering the power of theater as a young man was how I discovered my own human potential.”

YSTEP is intentionally an ensemble – a group with no hierarchy among the multi-aged participants. This year’s youths (third grade through young teens) and adults (ages 55 and older) have gathered weekly for six weeks and have become acquainted by responding to the story prompts Mr. Rhoze continually provides. As a result of the process, ensemble members have learned how their lives are both different and also the same as others in the multi-aged group.  

“We start with rather basic questions about each others’ lives,” said Mr. Rhoze: “‘Who is your favorite musical performer? Do you have a pet? Tell us about your favorite pet. Where were you born and how long did you live in that place? Tell us about your best friend growing up. Where have you traveled?’ These are the kinds of questions we start with, and the unfolding conversations that follow inform the story that we finally create as our short piece of theater.”   

In the process of constructing a brief story with setting and conflict and resolution, participants become familiar with the role of the narrator, with how scenes develop,  how theme is imbedded in story, and how dialogue helps to advance the plot.

As more than a dozen ensemble members collaborate on the elements of the story, Mr. Rhoze’s deft and vibrant direction helps shape the final piece. “And the weekly refreshments donated by Hecky’s BBQ provide us fuel for the creative process.” said Mr. Rhoze.

In some years the culminating activity has been a group theater performance of a one-act play; in other years the final piece is presented as a table reading.  

This year’s venue for the YSTEP project was the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center at 1823 Church St., and the culminating event, on Nov. 16. Family and friends were invited to gather for pizza and a table reading of the ensemble’s short and original one-act play, “The Missing Muse.”

About half of the 2017 ensemble members – young people and adults alike – have participated in YSTEP for multiple years. Gerri Sizemore, an adult ensemble member of the project, said she initially joined YSTEP because she likes theater, but mostly because Mr. Rhoze recruited her. “I’ve done it for seven years now.” Ms. Sizemore laughed. It’s a good bet that she will be back again next year.