By Greg Pascucci

Theater and the Arts May Improve Brain HealthWhen Rhona Saunders moved to The Carlisle Naples, she knew she wanted to share her love of the theatre with others. She collaborated with three of her neighbors—Toni Dunn, Judith Laserson and Sallie Rae—to form “Live on Stage at The Carlisle,” bringing live theatre to residents at the active retirement community.

“We wanted more than simply having outside troupes performing for our enjoyment,” said Saunders, who had a distinguished career in marketing and advertising. “It was essential there be interaction, beyond being in the audience.”

She recently drew on her extensive background producing local theatre and reached out to The Naples Players, a nationally recognized community theatre company, to partner with The Carlisle for an innovative series of acting workshops, held onsite at the community.

Under the guidance of renowned author, playwright and singer Carol Fenstermacher, nearly a dozen residents, ranging in age from 70s to 90s, signed us to learn the fundamentals of acting— from memorizing lines to stage presence.

Two workshops were held in January, giving participants an opportunity to delve into the scenes of classic plays while studying character development with Fenstermacher and Nathalie King, an award-winning one-act playwright. Acting exercises were designed to stimulate residents’ mind and body, including abstract thinking, eye-contact and awareness of one’s body.

“The enthusiasm and support from residents have been exceptional,” said Fenstermacher. “I recall being so pumped after the first class. It’s been a very rewarding initiative.”

Only two of the workshop participants have previous acting or performance experience. The others were eager to sign up for “Live on Stage at The Carlisle” because it meant stepping outside their comfort zone and trying something new. One gentleman joined the class after reading about the many health benefits associated with acting.

Research supports his findings. A study by the National Institutes of Health found older adults who participated in a theatre program cited improved self-worth and overcoming self-imposed limitations. The National Center for Creative Aging also reported that the arts, including theatre, can stimulate mental activity. Memorizing lines and learning new activities can strengthen the brain’s attention system and improve cognitive function.

On January 21st, the budding thespians showed off their newly acquired skills during a powerful theatrical performance in front of neighbors, staff, family and friends. They re-enacted scenes from beloved plays, which included two-person scripts. The comedic roles went over well with the audience who raved about the production.

“It was great seeing residents bring the scenes and characters to life,” said Zest Director Mary Beth Baxter, who is charged with planning events, activities and outings that appeal to residents’ mind, body and soul. “Each day, we challenge our residents to have first-time experiences, regardless of age. Whether becoming an ‘Olympian’ during our Summer Olympic Challenge, learning to play the harmonica, boxing at a local gym or being part of a theatre troupe, residents are proving that you’re never too old to have a new adventure!”

Located at 6945 Carlisle Court in Naples, The Carlisle offers spacious one-and two-bedroom residences, weekly housekeeping and flat linen services, basic cable TV, all utilities except telephone, and a complimentary full breakfast plus choice of lunch or dinner in the community’s gourmet-style restaurant. For more information about the community, please call 239-221-0017 or visit

Luxury Rental Retirement Living
6945 Carlisle Court, Naples, FL 34109
239-221-0017 .