An Elon University music theatre major and Elon College Fellow interviewed residents of a local retirement community for stories shared in an original production.
By Sarah Mulnick ’17
At first, Jake Sokoloff was surprised when his grandmother told him that she didn’t feel like anyone listened to her anymore. Then he was determined to do something about it.
The Long Island native and Elon University senior has spent much of the past two years orchestrating a research project that allowed him to combine his passion for music with the chance to hear and present the stories of an older generation.
Sokoloff interviewed his grandmother and, closer to campus, a dozen residents of the Village at Brookwood, a retirement community in Burlington, North Carolina.
Those interviews formed the basis for an original production, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me: Stories from an Unforgettable Generation,” performed to sold-out audiences on two nights in February as part of Sokoloff’s Elon College Fellows project.
His work is the latest to be featured on E-net this week in a series of stories about research and creative projects showcased April 28 at Elon University’s 2015 Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.
Sokoloff inspired residents during the interviews by having them listen to music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The narratives were merged into a collection of stories set to popular music from what Sokoloff calls the “golden era” of musical theater.
“Music sticks in the part of the brain that goes deeper than anything else,” Sokoloff said. “So we decided to use music as the impetus for conversations about stories and memories of people from my grandmother’s generation.”
Working with Professor Jane Wellford in the Department of Performing Arts, Sokoloff combed those stories to note their broader themes, which ranged from childhood adventures to growing up, falling in love, and having a career and children.
He said most of the stories revolved around meeting the expectations that life places on people, but some of the more interesting tales were about unmet expectations. “I separated these stories based on the themes of life,” Sokoloff said. “That way it wasn’t about the person who was telling the story, but rather about the collective generation and telling the story about them.”
Sokoloff said his work demonstrates the impact that music and narratives can have on a sense of self, especially as that self changes over time. It also showcases the importance of performance and storytelling for an older generation.
Sokoloff has spent four years working in the musical theater program at Elon and is performing in “Next to Normal,” which opened April 23 and runs for two weeks.
After graduation he plans to pursue a career in the performing arts. He also hopes in the future to have the chance to combine his passion for music with the creation of venues for older generations to tell their stories in front of an audience.
“The audience and the listener is key,” Sokoloff said. “Listening is an act of love. I want to give them a chance to be heard.”
CELEBRATE! Is Elon University’s annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. For more information, visit elon.edu/celebrate.