Kori Schwarz is 17 and a senior at Phoenix Country Day School. In addition, she’s an entertainer. She sings, she dances, she performs. However, now that she can’t perform on a stage, she is doing what many performers are forced to do in the time of COVID-19. She’s performing online. The difference is that Schwarz has a very specific audience in mind — seniors.
Before the pandemic shut down traditional stages, Schwarz created Mixed Melodies, a troupe of entertainers that performed at senior living facilities throughout Greater Phoenix.
“Growing up in the Jewish community, I have been taught that giving back is one of the most important values,” Schwarz said about her motivation.
But then COVID-19 stopped them in their tracks, and Schwarz was forced to change course.
“We only got to do a few performances before COVID-19 happened,” Schwarz said. “So I decided I would try to take it online.” She’s in the process of collecting videos of performances now, but it’s been a struggle. Teenagers aren’t that responsive, she joked, but another problem is harder to overcome.
Getting the word out to seniors about what she’s doing without being able to visit them in person is difficult. Social media is not a place most seniors inhabit.
The upside is that online platforms give teens from across the world an opportunity to submit performances, making the pool of performers theoretically limitless. “Anyone — even outside the U.S. — feeling isolated, should reach out and get helpful messages,” she said.
Seniors won’t be the only ones benefiting.
A lot of theater kids, in particular, she said, are feeling down too without the ability to perform. With no shows, “everybody’s just kind of sitting home making these singing videos,” she said, and realized it was time “to do something with it, because theater kids thrive on performing."
Another member of Mixed Melodies, 17-year-old Jewel Abdo, said she is excited about Kori’s idea. “Not many people think about the seniors who are alone, and when we did it in person, they were so grateful,” she said. “I can only imagine how grateful they’ll be now.”
Schwarz also asks that every person making a video add a special message for seniors who, unable to see family and friends, might feel very alone. Abdo played Carole King’s, “You’ve Got a Friend,” on the piano for her video, combining music with the message itself.
“I wanted to find a way to entertain them (seniors) with this project,” Schwarz said. “It’s actually been pretty cool getting these videos from Mexico City and the U.K. — it’s really cool to see all these people wanting to help.”
While Schwarz and her crew are focused on sharing recorded performances with seniors, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival hit on a similar idea with movies.
Feeling cooped up herself, Linda Mittelman, GPJFF’s artistic director, thought that while COVID-19 is keeping older people even more isolated than normal, now seemed the perfect time to share films with them where they live. She decided to call the project “Elder Love,” and the first film on offer is “The Windemere Children.”
“It’s something to look forward to every couple of weeks, every once a month,” she said. “This would be a little bit unique, a little bit special for them.”
Past efforts of the group to reach out to the community petered out in the last few years, and suddenly it occurred to Mittelman that with so many friends living in retirement homes unable to socialize — even with each other — this is the perfect time to reinvigorate that idea.
“My ultimate goal, and that of GPJFF, is to keep this going well beyond COVID,” she said. “We feel that it’s a mitzvah to the people who are really shut in, and it would be a wonderful gift for the film festival to do this on an ongoing basis.”
“Our mantra is: All of our films have a Jewish theme, but you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate them.” Now, seniors don’t have to go outside of their homes either. JN