1. Life & Culture

New play focuses on the dangers of seniors falling

CLEARWATER — The actor is playing out a common moment. She is an elderly woman, one who cherishes simple possessions — her cat, a favorite rug, her own home. She loses her balance while leaning over. She tumbles to the ground. The stage fades to black.

On Sunday, SAGES, the Senior Actors Guild and Education Services of Clearwater, will present Denying Gravity at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center. It is a play created by Linda Goldman, writer and founder of SAGES, and Christine Hamacher, director of business development with Home Care Now and a member of the Fall Prevention Coalition of Better Living for Seniors. Combining Goldman's scriptwriting skills and Hamacher's expertise in senior living, eight actors tell the story of Claire. She is a grandmother whose life is altered after a fall. It is a play, with both dark and comedic elements, that advocates fall prevention.

"Our actors are on fire to change someone's life for the better,'' said Goldman, 72. "Statistics show us that in a year, Pinellas County emergency workers respond to more than 25,000 calls concerning falls, and of the seniors who fall, within six months, 44 percent will fall again.''

A few months ago, Hamacher, the director of the show, urged Goldman to take on the issue of falling.

"This is a heady topic,'' said Hamacher, 49. "I loved what Linda was doing with community theatre for her peer group, and I ended up saying to her that I hoped she would write a play about fall prevention.''

When Goldman started SAGES in 2016, on the stage inside Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater, she did so because "in retirement, I started attending theater, and I was turned off the way seniors were depicted,'' she said.

"I started with four goals: to perform plays that have a positive image on aging, feature senior actors in leading roles, stimulate discussion on issues older Americans face and enhance access to community theater through matinee performances which older people can get to easier,'' she said. "This certainly is an issue they face.''

Gay Grooms Hardin is the lead actor who plays Claire. She founded Elm Street Cultural Arts Village in Georgia before moving to Florida in January 2015.

"A big reason I moved was to be closer to my father,'' she said.

To Grooms Hardin, portraying Claire "aligns with current life.''

"I love what Linda has been doing, and even if just one person learns from it and changes what they are doing and does something to keep from falling, I see it as a success,'' she said. "This play is what is going on in my family right now. My dad is 96 years old, and he is Claire.''

The play mirrors life for Hamacher as well. In January, her 86-year-old uncle fell while he was walking out to the mailbox. Soon after his fall, his 83-year-old wife fell too. They had been married 62 years.

When SAGES presented Denying Gravity recently for the first time at the Better Living for Seniors Consortium in Gulfport, Hamacher shared her family's experience and dedicated her work to her aunt and uncle. Later that day, her uncle died in a hospital on the east coast.

"From his fall, he received an infection, and he never recovered,'' Hamacher said. "I saw him a week before he died, and he was happy I was doing the play. We even prayed for the success of the play, to reach a lot of people.''

In order to ensure the show indeed reaches as many individuals as possible, Goldman and Hamacher enlisted the help of the Fall Prevention Coalition of Better Living for Seniors and the Pinellas Park Fire Department. Along with helping with research and statistics, several Pinellas Park firefighters and EMS employees are participating in the show.

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.