Death Goes Public—On Stage Before the Bright Lights
“YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.” These words strike fear in the hearts of many people. A deafening silence usually follows when the subject of death comes up. But in the Bay Area, there’s a growing movement to bring death out of the closet. Growing numbers of people want to speak openly about death. And some of them are now getting on stage and addressing death through storytelling, prose, poetry, and music. Two popular performing arts venues are providing an open forum for people to express their deepest feelings about loss and mortality.
Stagebridge in downtown Oakland is the nation’s oldest and most renowned theater company of older adults. The company started in 1978 with a mission to enrich the lives of seniors through the performing arts. It offers classes in acting, singing, dancing, and storytelling for people over 50.
For Dyin’ Out Loud
In November 2019, Stagebridge presented “For Dyin’ Out Loud,” a storytelling event about life’s paths and the journey to the end of life. “We wanted to create a venue where we could share our stories and then hopefully spark discussion and thinking and feeling about living fully and dying,” said Eleanor Clement Glass, one of the participating senior storytellers. An audience of fifty people listened with rapt attention as Glass shared her stories about the death of her father and how her mother successfully coped with her loss. “It helped me get in very close emotional touch with my mom and dad,” said Glass, “A participant came up to me and said ‘this was so heart-opening.’ And that’s exactly what I felt and what I wanted others to feel.”
Ben Tucker, also known on stage as Brother Ben, told a moving story of his friend Ron, who died of a sudden heart attack while hiking in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. He ended the story by having the audience sing “Happy Trails” with him. “It was cathartic,” said Tucker, “It helped me bring out that last little bit of grief and share it with the audience. And I could see the looks on their faces. And Ron was in the room and I think he would have been very proud that he was being remembered in such a supportive group of people.”