When I was first introduced to Bingo at my mother’s assisted-living facility, I thought, “Aren’t there better ways to spend what little time remains than this mindless, empty distraction?” As I played along with my mother though, I began to see why Bingo is so appealing: it is kind of exciting to watch as the card fills up and know that only two or three squares from now the jackpot will all be mine — which of course never happens. The winner’s take never amounts to much more than $3.00 at my mother’s, but that doesn’t prevent me from imagining it will miraculously fund my inheritance.
Dreams aside, the unavoidable fact is that my mother, and quite a few others in the room, don’t understand what the numbers mean, what it takes to win, or even what the concept of winning is all about. Most just sit there either dozing or with blank expressions on their faces while their aides keep track of their cards. At least there’s something in it for the caregivers.
I don’t know how I got the idea for New Improved Bingo! (NIB) but I wanted to try it out at my mother’s place. In NIB, when a number is drawn, the caller or an assistant acts out a word that begins with the number’s letter, B/I//N/G/O. For example, if the number is B6, the actor might announce B6 in a “boisterous,” “brusque,” “bumbling,” or “blasé” manner; G57 in a “gagging,” “genteel,” “glum,” or “grating” way; etc., etc. The idea is for the players to guess the word that is being dramatized, or for anyone in the audience to step in front of the footlights themselves.
I don’t consider myself an actor, nor am I comfortable performing in public, so I was somewhat apprehensive the day I introduced NIB. I tried consoling myself with the knowledge that this was closer to charades than Broadway (or even off-off-off-off Broadway), and that it was necessary R&D for ElderSparks. Even so, I couldn’t escape the feeling that this particular audience was likely to rival LaScala’s in its demands.
My nervousness was relieved after talking with a high school student who was doing community service that afternoon at Bingo. She said that she had acted in several school plays and was willing to take turns with me performing the words in NIB. (Secretly, I was hoping she’d do them all.) As it happened, she chickened out completely once things started and I was left on stage to entertain the room by myself.
NIB’s premier wasn’t a complete disaster but like Spider-man, Turn Off the Dark, it definitely needs more work — perhaps a more accomplished actor than myself. Many of the aides had a good time but it definitely went over their clients’ heads, my mother’s included. It might have helped if there had been some advance notice so it didn’t come as a complete surprise, but in the end, NIB is probably more appropriate for audiences whose minds are still reasonably whole.