Cortlandt resident Christine Fonsale has spent years as a professional actress and voice-over artist. Now she is giving voice to others who are rarely heard.
Fonsale offers a therapeutic arts program called Living Stories, an offshoot of Theater Lab’s Life Stories® Institute. “As an actor trained in the techniques of Life Stories®, I offer a program for seniors in assisted living facilities as well as for other people from vulnerable populations,” Fonsale says. “Together, we create original dramatic works using their own life experiences.”
A native of Aix-en-Provence, France, Fonsale was a theater administrator and production makeup artist for television and film before becoming an actress. “I circled around acting for a long time, and then I finally went to the Theater Lab School of Dramatic Arts in Washington, D.C. to get my conservatory training as an actor.”
Fonsale graduated from the Theater Lab in 2008 and began her career as an actress. However, she soon discovered she wanted to do more. “I’ve always felt the greatest privilege is telling other people’s stories and bringing them to light,” she says.
Earlier this year Fonsale began working with a group of eight seniors at Atria on the Hudson, an assisted living facility in Ossining. The goal of their work together was to create a performance piece called Vintage Voices. The show, which was streamed online this past June, was presented by the Ossining-based Westchester Collaborative Theater as part of its Hudson Valley New Voices Festival, supported by ArtsWestchester.
“When we started the project, it was during Covid, and the Atria was not allowing outside vendors inside so we had to begin with Zoom,” she says. “I thought that it would last a week or two, but it ended up lasting six weeks.”
“While most of the residents could not write down their stories for a variety of reasons – from bad eyesight to arthritis – I recorded their meetings and would ask a lot of questions around and within the stories they were revealing. After I transcribed what they said, I read them back to the individuals as well as the group to get feedback,” says Fonsale.
Fonsale also worked with the Ossining Arts Council to get two additional seniors to participate in the program. In the end, there were 13 stories, ten of which were streamed during the two-hour program and three that were offered in bonus materials online.
While Fonsale had professional actors on standby to tell the stories of the seniors she was working with for the Vintage Voices performance, it turned out that all ten of the seniors told their own stories.
“They had no video experience and no acting experience,” says Fonsale. “They were all in their 80s and most had been in lockdown for 15 months. Many of them couldn’t read, write or see, but little by little they all decided they would give it a try.”
Fonsale says stories ran the gamut, from whimsical to heart wrenching. “A former biology high school teacher told a story about going to the New Jersey Pine Barrens with a friend looking for indigo snakes and being stuck out there under the stars. A woman who was a delivery room nurse talked about the difficulties she had having a child. There was also a story from a single mother of five who built a house with all her children as crew,” she says.
Fonsale looks forward to doing a live performance piece. “I’d love to work with seniors again and also to work with veterans. It’s really applicable to a great number of community groups.”
For more information > christinefonsale.com.
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer residing in Briarcliff Manor, NY.