Service Learning

Titus Towers: Producing a Play about Older People, with Older People

This article was written by Alyssa Baletti '13, an aging studies minor

Service learning projects in aging studies are designed to involve Ithaca College students with older adult communities in Ithaca. This allows students to volunteer and spend quality time with older people.

“The goal of these projects is to give students real life interactions with older adults who are not their grandparents and to provide service,” said Elizabeth Bergman, assistant professor of aging studies at Ithaca College. In the past, service learning projects have varied from spending time with an older adult to participating in organized events.

A unique service learning project took place in fall 2012, when residents of Titus Towers, a senior housing community, and Ithaca College students collaborated on performing an intergenerational play. Premiered on Dec. 2, 2012, Titus Towers is a musical comedy about two women who moved into Titus Towers from west Texas and their adjustments to living in their new home. Titus Towers was developed by playwright Jim Tyler to increase the community involvement among residents while incorporating students from Ithaca College.

After spending time with IC aging studies students who were interested in theater, Tyler, a resident at Titus Towers, decided to write and compose music for a play that would be performed there. Tyler is not new to playwriting. When he was a professor of Greek and Latin at Moravian College, he wrote plays in Latin for his students to perform as a method of learning.

“Rehearsing and performing plays in Latin was the most enjoyable way for them to learn the language,” said Tyler.

After the play was written, Professor Bergman and Tyler collaborated to recruit Titus Towers’s residents and Ithaca College students to take part in the performance. Two students, Julie Sullivan ’15 and Leanne Contino ’15, became co-directors. Sullivan, a television-radio major, assumed the role of director and taught the residents simple acting skills. Contino, a vocal performance and music education major, became musical director and persuaded the residents to participate in singing. The students formed complex relationships with Titus Towers’s residents.

 “We developed professional relationships with the older adults, [but] at the end, we were ultimately friends with all the residents involved,” Sullivan and Contino said.  

Creating intergenerational interactions between the six residents and five students who participated was one of the play’s goals. Tyler said, “the students and residents were always joking around with each other during rehearsals.”  This allowed the students to gain a sense of variety of characters and interests of the residents at Titus. The students interviewed also mentioned that they were so interested in learning from each of the older adults and hearing about their life stories.

“I found spending time with the residents truly breathtaking,” Sullivan said.

Overall, the performance was considered a success and a full audience was in attendance.

“The cast did a splendid job and became inspired and energized by the audience’s reactions,” said Tyler. Although the participants added important contributions to the play, Tyler and Professor Bergman played crucial roles in its success.

“Jim and Elizabeth used their expertise and committed their time to the execution of the play,” said Contino. “Without them this could never have happened!”

Due to the success of Titus Towers and the relationships formed, Tyler has written another play, The Fountain of Youth. His intent is to involve more students and residents in this ongoing service learning project.

To learn more about service learning opportunities with older people in Ithaca, please contact the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute at (607) 274-1965 or

NOTE: Titus Towers is available on YouTube.


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