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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Seniors With Parkinson's Disease Hit the Stage

By: Sara McCloskey
June 17, 2017

Montpelier, Vermont - It's almost curtain call for a group of Vermont seniors putting on a show about what they do every day.
There's a twist to their performance. All of the performers are living with Parkinson's Disease.

Some of the members of the Montpelier Senior Activity Center are getting ready for a big performance Saturday.

"The whole show is framed around Parkinson's," said Rob Mermin who has been teaching classes to people who have Parkinson's, a disorder that frequently causes loss of motor skills.

Rob is the founder of Circus Smirkus. He himself was diagnosed with Parkinson's 3 years ago. He performs and teaches pantomime to others.

"In mime training, we become aware of every single movement," Rob said. "I think that's what people with Parkinson's need to do, is become more aware of how they're moving incorrectly."

On Saturday the Parkinson's performance troupe will be taking the stage at the Unadilla Theater in Calais. 

They'll do skits, juggling acts but also talk with the audience about their disorder.

"We aim to educate the audience about what it's like to have Parkinson's disease," Rob said. 

Duncan Wilkie is one of the performers and he admits he's a little shy of the stage. 

"I'm intimated," Duncan said laughing, with his wife, Suzie, by his side in their Montpelier home. "I've never performed on stage, I'm not an actor." 

An avid member of the green mountain club, hiking most of the long trail and Appalachian trail with his friends, Duncan realized something was wrong about four years ago.

"I'd be in downtown Montpelier and my foot would drag, going across the street," Duncan said.

Suzie says she also noticed some changes in Duncan's step and speech.

Duncan has been doing better lately in part from his medications but also from the classes at the senior center.

"I pretend that there's a wall there. It's a hard time to get my hand to flatten out, " Duncan said, as he moved his hand the way Rob taught him in class. 

Suzie says her husband is becoming confident again. "He's really learning to focus on his movement."

With curtain call being just a day away, the Wilkie's hope the audience realizes Parkinson's is just part of life. It doesn't stop you from living.

"It's a new normal, that you live your life in different ways," Suzie said. "But you can still have vibrancy, you can still have fun and companionship, you can still go places, you can do things."

The Parkinson's Performance Troupe's show will be at 6 p.m. Saturday. It's free to attend and there will be a talk back with the audience. 

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