Nursing Home Cabaret
Nursing Home "Cabaret" Free Shows
By Rena Dictor LeBlanc
Last Sunday I did the unthinkable.
At least it would have been unthinkable years ago.
I visited a nursing home.
And in doing so I overcame one of the greatest obstacles in my life.
My mother died after spending years in nursing homes. I was heartbroken when I lost her. But, I was set free as well. All the years I tried to get decent care for her I felt like I was battling windmills. She suffered neglect and abuse. Now that she was gone, with guilty relief I promised myself I never would step foot in one of those institutions again.
Something Of A Triumph
I broke that promise to myself in a way that still amazes me now, decades later. Though I still am haunted by the anguish of the past, I found a way to turn that experience into something meaningful, healing and even uplifting. In doing so I followed the examples of the many people I've interviewed who, against the odds, were able to duel with adversity, and emerge victorious. Mine was not a true victory, because I never could "save" my mother. But, it's something of a triumph in its own way.
My mother loved the tape-recorded music I played for her during my visits to her in the nursing homes. Other residents would gather around us and enjoy the music as well. Because I witnessed the joy beautiful music brought to the nursing home residents, I decided to try to find a way to bring live musical entertainment to them. I had no idea how to go about it. I took the first uncertain step, and then the next, and then the one after that.
I knew a number of wonderful professional singers because I had produced music parties for years, and hired them to perform accompanied by a pianist. They had entertained in concert halls and cabarets throughout the world. But, would they work for free to entertain nursing home residents? Many of them said yes.
Almost twenty years ago I formed Cabaret, my troupe of volunteer entertainers. I began calling nursing homes and arranging for us to entertain once a month. We usually have an average of six performers at our shows, but we've had as many as ten. The singers perform old favorite songs, music from early Broadway shows, international tunes and even opera.
There's a transformation in many of the nursing home residents when the shows start. They sing along, clap their hands, tap their feet, smile, and sometimes even cry when hearing beloved songs from their past. We have singers, pianists, a flamenco guitarist, and tango dancers The Cabaret shows are uplifting, not only to the audience, but also to the entertainers, and to me.
The shows have gone over so well that my wisecracking pianist Wayne Behlendorf joked, "We should charge a two-drink minimum." Wayne has been an outstanding accompanist for the singers at every Cabaret show since we started. Sonia Flaum too has thrilled the nursing home residents with her singing at just about every performance since Cabaret began. She embraces the audience not only with her talent but with her charisma and warmth as well.
Now I want to find a way to bring free Cabaret shows to nursing home residents across the country. Can I do it? I've learned that with passion and determination just about anything is possible.
Previously published on Eons.com
An article on my Cabaret nursing home shows published by the Los Angeles Times can be viewed by clicking on the website address below.
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