Arts Community is Heart of the Lillian Booth Actors Home

By Madeline Orton
NJ Today

It’s an average Wednesday afternoon at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood. At this assisted living facility though, “an average afternoon” means an award-winning cabaret artist and a Julliard-trained pianist are about to take the stage for their fellow residents.

The Actors Home, which moved to New Jersey from Staten Island in 1928, is subsidized by the Actors Fund, a human services non-profit for professionals in the performing arts and entertainment.

“It’s not just actors,” explained Lucy Seligson, director of Social Services at The Lillian Booth Actors Home. “It’s dancers, singers, technicians, writers, stage hands…you name it. If they are in that industry, we are here for them.”

The Actors Home offers housing to residents who have dedicated a major portion of their lives to the industry regardless of their ability to pay.

Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell is chairman of the Actors Fund Board. “It’s a relief to know that when you get older and you need a place like this, a place like this is around for you,” he said. “It’s also really a good feeling to know that the people whose shoulders that we stand upon are being taken care of.”

For Aideen O’Kelly, one such veteran Broadway actress who’s worked with esteemed members of the field like Samuel Beckett, living with people who share her passion just feels right.

“I spent all my life being around theater people. Literally! That’s what I did. I can’t imagine my life not being around theater people,” O’Kelly said. “If you were here all morning, you would have heard banging away. It might have been Beethoven something or other, or you’d hear jazz in someone’s room.”

Not surprisingly, the arts are ever-present here, which is seen as a real benefit by residents like Joan Stein, a classical pianist who played for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and Larry Woodard, a pianist and singer who plays operatic arias and show tunes alike from memory. They organize a weekly cabaret.

“Several people along the way the past four years, who have never sang a note in their lives, are singing and enjoying it,” Stein shared.

“You can see them tapping their toes or occasionally watch their lips moving because they remember a lyric to a song,” agreed Woodard.

“It has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, it has been shown to enhance cognitive functioning,” said Seligson, listing health benefits that can come from participating in the arts.

For residents, that’s what makes the Actors Home feel like home.

“This is a place where people come to live and to continue their life and continue performing…and the joy of the arts, and being around people of like minds and like spirits,” Brian Stokes Mitchell said.

Woodard concurs. “I couldn’t have landed in a better spot than here,” he said.

For O’Kelly, living within such a community brings one word to mind. “It’s home,” she declared. “It’s home sweet home.”

Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.