Bringing story book characters to life

Senior citizens perform literature for children


After Lawrence resident Shirlee Sloyer retired in the spring from teaching rhetorical studies for more than 40 years at Hofstra University, she was coaxed by friends and family to take her love of theater and create a group of senior citizens who perform literature to children in hospitals.

Sloyer, the author of two books, “Story Dramatization in the Classroom,” and “From the Page to the Stage,” formed a group of 10 senior citizens in mid-July who rehearse every Tuesday evening. “It’s fun being together and we’re going to be out there so we’re anxious to be good,” she said. “I thought it might be something special for retired people to be active in doing something for children who might appreciate it.”

On Sept. 24 the group, under the direction of Sloyer, performed “The Princess and the Pea” by Hans C. Anderson and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, among other tales, for the first time at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. The cast wears all black and dons hats that are specific to the characters in the book such as crowns, wigs and baseball caps. “It’s been tough getting gigs; I wanted to go to Cohen’s because it’s one of the biggest children’s hospitals on Long Island but it wasn’t easy getting them to let us in,” Sloyer said. “But it’s been delightful; [the cast] are wonderful people and it’s good for everybody.”

The group also performed on Tuesday at SIBSPlace, a Hewlett-based organization that caters to children who have brothers and sisters with cancer or other terminal illnesses. Patricia Reische, a Hewlett resident and educational therapist, originally propelled Sloyer to form the group. “I like living in a world of fantasy; it’s a moment in time to sit and laugh,” Reische said. “I hope we’re able to continue taking the show on the road.”

Woodsburgh resident Harry Mison joined the group with his wife Jane after they learned about it from Sloyer. “We were minding our own business at the pool at The Woodmere Club and she asked us if we’d be interested,” Jane said. “When we heard it involved entertaining children in hospitals it became very important to us. I hope they feel happy and forget their circumstances.”

Though Sloyer doesn’t know what the future holds for the group, she said the cast has been afforded a unique opportunity. “They wouldn’t have done anything like this in their lifetime; getting the chance to do this on stage, to perform and give of themselves at the same time,” she said. “The children can see characters come to life off the page from books they know very well and our age has nothing to do with it. It could really develop into a big thing and I certainly hope it does.”