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NYer of the Week: Leo Schaff Helps Seniors Appreciate Depth of Shakespeare's Work

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The latest New Yorker of the Week could be touring as an actor of a William Shakespeare company, but after discovering his passion for teaching older adults years ago, he brings the Globe Theater to a group of seniors in Greenwich Village. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.

It was easy for Leo Schaff to admire William Shakespeare's plays.

"Any actor wants to play Hamlet, Othello, Lear just to be able to go, 'I said those words in front of people. Oh my Gosh, I said that poetry, I expressed those feelings,'" Schaff says.

Leo was able to relive those feelings through teaching a drama therapy class with seniors.
That's where he truly discovered the joy of learning with older adults.

"Still retaining their intelligence, their sense of joy and not succumbing to, 'Oh, I've seen it all before, been there done that,' but no, still having the capacity through creativity, through the arts," Schaff says. "The arts of any kind continue to make life worth living. Shakespeare found a way, in his way, to speak to all of that."

So Leo made sure seniors could listen. Today, this actor and songwriter offers a free weekly Shakespeare course for seniors. Every Monday since 2001, he teaches at the Greenwich House Senior Center on the Square.

"He goes into the background sources and gives us all kinds of interesting information about the plays. Makes it more real for us," says participant Rita Post.

"When you're a senior, to have something to look forward to with that great anticipation is very important," says participant Vinnie Marie Dambrosio. "It really keeps you alive and keeps you lively."

"Just like when you go to a museum, you look at a painting and somebody walks by and you're both looking at it and going, 'Wow,' and the other person goes, 'Yeah, wow.' Right?" Schaff says. "That feeling of communion, of both appreciating the same thing that fills you with wonder and amazement, is such a great feeling. As a song of mine goes, 'If it don't bring the people together, what's the good?'"

So, for bringing seniors together to appreciate the depth of Shakespeare's work, Leo Schaff is the latest New Yorker of the Week.

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New Yorker of the Week
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