Courtney Surmanek


Theatre Through Windows

Co-Director & Co-Facilitator with Steven T. Licardi

Read an article about the project in the Roanoke Times here, check out a video on the project here, and listen to a short feature on NPR here.

While quarantining in Blacksburg, VA, my partner Steven T. Licardi and I developed creative engagement opportunities with elders that honor the need for social distancing. What we lovingly call Theatre Through Windows consists of creative and playful interactions with elders at their bedroom windows or at large common area windows. Each session, we move through a combination of improv games ranging from the active and energetic to the quiet and reflective. We weave improv with spoken word poetry and call & response singalongs based on the day’s theme (some recent examples include belonging, magic, and ancestry). The songs are drawn from Appalachian ballads and other folk tunes accessible for any voice.

Steven and I both believe deeply, like many leading artists in the field of creative ageing, in the transformative impact improvisational theatre and the arts can have on older adults across the aging spectrum. Indeed, research shows that creative engagement can lead to improved quality of life. We believe that creativity is for everyone. Creativity helps us challenge our minds and increase our cognitive reserve, build our social network, reduce stress, and develop within ourselves a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Playing together is healing. Laughter is good for the soul.

This work has spun out in two exciting directions:

Steven Licardi and I mentored a group of undergraduate students, with the loving encouragement of Dr. Ozzie Abaye at Virginia Tech, to lead Theatre Through Windows sessions, as part of a course rooted in service-learning at Commonwealth Senior Living. Students learned about creative ageing principles and explored improv basics through a training process, observed a session led by Steven and I, and then collaboratively planned and led three sessions.

I worked with Dr. Matthew Komelski at Virginia Tech to develop digital creative engagement programs for elders at Warm Hearth Village, a retirement and assisted living facility. The collaboration builds on his extensive work with Warm Hearth Village via a course rooted in service-learning that he teaches. This is a picture from our first training session with students that ran “Mindfulness Through Improv” sessions. The prompt was: Translate the essence of your personality into a kitchen utensil.

Writing inspired by the project: