Imagine having a virtual panel of elders available to dispense advice on anything from everyday quandaries to major life decisions. That’s exactly what The Last Act will provide, even for those youngsters too busy to visit their grandparents.
The new digital series, which debuted this week, features an assortment of “bubbes, zaydes, aunties and neighbors” 80 and older telling their stories and imparting life lessons. Some are famous, such as TV producer Norman Lear, and some are known — for now — only to their children and grandchildren.
“Our hope is that this series will spark a dialogue between people of different generations, young people getting involved with older people,” said Tiffany Woolf, one of the co-creators. “Interviewing these people hopefully will offer a road map to that time in our lives that we look forward to.”
The project is being produced by Reboot, the creative Jewish think tank. Its goal is to create an online library of short documentaries — ones with Lear and with actress Marion Ross now featured on the website are each 2½ minutes long — that will quickly grow in number.
The segments include everything from the mundane to the profound.
“Every single night, one of my last thoughts, if not the last thought, is the taste of coffee in the morning. I love coffee,” says the 95-year-old Lear.
“I want to tell everybody who isn’t very old yet that the big secret of life is you’ve not a clue how old you are. You don’t know,” Ross, 88, confides. “You don’t ever feel old because that child inside, that’s there, that’s the life force. That child. I’m about 11.”
Though the goal is to have many of the seniors tell their stories “through a Jewish lens,” Woolf said the series won’t be limited to Jewish storytellers.
The website, lastactseries.com, went online May 1 after about a year of preparation that included a handful of interviews with Los Angeles-area seniors such as Lear. Though The Last Act is conducting more interviews, Woolf said most of the segments should come from users.
The website provides a DIY toolkit for teens and others who can interview grandparents or folks at a local senior residence about their lives and then upload the video to The Last Act.
“Our greatest hope is that we can build an infrastructure where teenagers and kids in schools can go into nursing homes and residences and interview those people,” the San Francisco-based Woolf said, adding that the seniors enjoy telling their stories.
“Many of the folks that I interviewed say they feel invisible and don’t feel relevant. When you are fortunate enough to sit with these people, you realize what good fortune you have to be talking with them and hearing how to map out your life.”
Woolf, who has worked in public relations and production for entertainment and documentary films, developed the project with Steve Goldbloom, creator of the “Brief But Spectacular” series and “Everything But the News,” both on PBS.
She was 22 when her dad, sports agent Bob Woolf, died in 1993. Her mom died 10 years later. Woolf, who worked in a nursing home while in college, said she has been searching since then for older people who could provide wisdom about life.
“Losing my parents, it’s a hole I want to fill,” she said. “I sought out older role models because I don’t have them in my life. I was kind of looking for guides in that cohort.”