WGI Workshop participant Darlene Zimbardi’s play A Window into Elder World will premiere online on February 5, 2021. We spoke to her about her play, writing, and her process.

Tell us about your play, “A Window into Elder World.” 

Simply,  it’s a love letter to my mother’s caregivers and all caretakers, and their loved ones. This play is the third installment of my series “Reports from the Elder Front” which details the obstacles that my mother and I have gone through the past two and a half years since my stepfather died and her health deteriorated. 

My challenge was to keep her and her dog together while managing her affairs from across the country. Another challenge – to keep both of us sane. Dark humor’s my friend. I tell of our first-hand experiences of how the U.S. healthcare system mistreats the elderly and their loved ones; worry about those who have no one to advocate for them; appreciate the network of people that support us. I see this show as a social justice project, a visual handbook that gives people tools and techniques to help them fight for their loved ones. 

Why did you decide to write it as a theatrical play (instead of another format?)  

It started out as a prose piece but my characters have a lot to say. They demanded a stage. When I write, I write to be read aloud. I want people to feel…like when they listen to a song. I’m a huge music fan, during this time, David Bowie’s “Young Americans” has been stuck in my head.  I hope my play has stages as that song does, the instruments take center stage, his voice does, then the back-up singers, the tempo slows down, then the song changes key.  I want people to feel that when they read my writing or see it performed.

In addition, I realized that a way to reach more people is a performance, especially if you don’t have a  publisher. Putting on readings is a way to do community outreach that is inexpensive and effective. 

As a WGI workshop participant, did your experience in the workshop help your process, if so, how?  

A big YES! I started with the in-person writing group for caregivers and people with chronic illnesses that was done in conjunction with the Profile Theater here, in Portland, Oregon. After that, I was part of the online mentoring program. I had gone back to the East Coast because my mom had her second heart attack. I was in one of our meetings when my cousin called to tell me they thought my mom had a stroke.  It was in that session, that Jenna and Ana Maria (mentors), told us the Gala prompt, “You need to hear this…”  I immediately started writing about my mother’s current situation. “All About the Canine” came out of that session. 

Our group not only supported me in the writing aspect but also the human aspect. That’s one of the best things about the WGI program. The other great aspect of the WGI is that you are giving voice to the regular person. You support advocacy work. I’ve met writers from many of your programs, Veterans, Caregivers of Veterans, and people living with HIV, and those are just some of the groups that you work with.

I still connect with the participants; Jeanette, the actress that plays my mother, was part of the in-person group; she has Parkinson’s like my mother. Others from that session read drafts, brainstorm with me how to reach people, and encourage me in a variety of ways. Through the WGI network, I heard about Healing Voices program through the NJ Theater Alliance. My work was performed at their 2019 festival. My work was accepted again in 2020 but the event was canceled due to the pandemic. I was happy to be able to reach people on both coasts.

What has the process been like to see the play be produced and worked on by actors & a director,  to see it fully realized?  

Exciting, nerve-wracking, and fun…sometimes we laugh so hard, I pee my pants, especially this year with Heloise and Ruthie; their condom scene is just hysterical. I am so thankful that I can work on this project with friends. Our director Steph Myers, not only provides creative ideas but concrete solutions because she’s a nurse. When I hit walls, she provided much guidance as well as my mother’s caregivers in her ALF. When things would get too dark, Steph knew how to add just the right kind of humor so the audience wouldn’t be overwhelmed. What I’ve also appreciated is people who’ve generously shared their stories, their struggles with caring for their aging parents, and their willingness to have their stories included, whether it be on my website or incorporated into the show. 

When and how can people see the play? 

It premiers, February 5th, 7 pm (PST)  then streams until Feb. 15th, 2021 as part of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Works. You can watch it on Fertile Ground Facebook  or Fertile Ground YouTube Channel The festival is free but donations are accepted, all information is on my website.

What would you like to see happen as a result of the production of this play?

Our tag line this year is, “Don’t do this alone…grab your parents…watch & learn together.”

The theatrical reading’s the icebreaker to open up, have those conversations. Parents and children don’t know how to have these planning sessions, I didn’t either we were just thrown into the fire. I hope people find some resources to help them through this part of life. In the credits I list phone numbers and websites for guidance, I also have a resource page on my website with books and other sources. Maybe some people would become Ombudsman for long-term facilities in their state.

 Do you have any tips or suggestions for other writers out there?  

Think about how your words will sound… the rhythm and cadence. You never know where your thoughts will take you or how your challenges can help form changes…write them down, find like-minded people and brainstorm ways to get your words out there.

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