Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Life More Fulfilling

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Life More Fulfilling

Article excerpt

A rising young Broadway actress. A chef managing celebrity- studded Manhattan restaurants. A budding filmmaker and TV producer. This is the second in a three-part series looking at three artists from different disciplines who found an unexpected new venue in which to adapt their talents -- the modern-day nursing home and assisted living facility, which provides them an appreciative audience, a more stable lifestyle and a new kind of creative freedom and fulfillment than they might ever have found in the outside world.

Despite her success as a professional musical theater actor by age 30, Lucy Vance Seligson still felt something was missing from her life. "I had been on Broadway and on national tour since I graduated college," says the South Orange resident, who appeared for years in shows like "Les Miserables" and "Miss Saigon" in small parts or understudying principal roles. "I was used to making a living. But I also realized that although I loved it, I wasn't really going anywhere. When your show closes, you have to start auditioning again. There was no real feeling of progression. And I was getting tired of so much focusing on myself."

While some actors leave the business for completely different fields, Seligson found a way to reinvent herself without turning her back on the theater entirely. Today, she is the director of social services for an assisted living and skilled nursing facility. Only the social activities in this home aren't adult coloring, bingo or macrame. Try cabaret night, where some of the residents still have their singing chops and share a little night music with an audience of residents and perhaps relatives. Or dramatic play readings. Or drum circles with sing-alongs.

"We have people here who can't speak a word. But if I have someone come in and start playing Broadway standards on a piano, they can sing every line," Seligson says with astonishment. "There are different paths, neurologically," she says of the science of music and memory.

More and more professionals from different walks of artistic life -- be it theater, the culinary arts, music, even filmmaking -- are finding not only a steady paycheck working with the elderly population, but a whole new kind of fulfillment.

"It's fun. Sometimes it's therapeutic, too," Seligson says. This isn't just any assisted living and skilled nursing home. The Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood is specifically for retired theater professionals (some famous, some not so well known) and run by the Actors Fund, a New York-based nonprofit organization offering a variety of support services for the struggling and working actor alike. But she also notes research has shown that art in its many forms has therapeutic qualities for the elderly, whether they are retired actors or retired insurance salesmen.

"It's a best practice in the field of aging: That creativity enhances quality of life and decreases depression in people who live in a group-care environment," she says.

According to a review of a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, there are clear indications that artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health. In particular, music therapy has been shown to decrease neural activity in the brain, which may lead to reductions in anxiety. "It is likely that creative engagement contributes to many aspects of physiological and psychological conditions typically associated with improved health status," the study said.

"Everyone, even with dementia, still has the capacity to feel their emotions. They can't logically process things, but they can feel happiness. They can feel engagement," Seligson says.

Christopher Bloodworth, director of the Career Center, an Actors Funds program designed to help actors live and work, said Seligson is a great example for people in any field looking to transfer their talents to another type of work.

"Historically, people in the performing arts have had side jobs. …

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