A group of older people are looking towards a camera to take a picture. Some are standing in informal positions while someone is sitting with their leg up in the air.

“Expressions of Joy” hits the stage at Mia, celebrating the creativity of older adults

By Julie Bourman and Sheila McGuire //

For eight weeks, a cohort of older adults—many living with HIV—have come to Mia to turn their life experiences into story and song. The workshop “Expressions of Joy” is a collaboration between Mia’s Vitality Arts program, Rainbow Health, and Theatre 55, and the resulting pieces with be performed live in the Pillsbury Auditorium at Mia on June 1 at 11 a.m.—a morning of monologues and songs that range across humor and heartache, tenderness and joy. (Tickets are free and available here.)

Most of the participants have never performed before and have learned to reflect on their lives to create these personal pieces—in many cases, a healing process. They have met new friends, cried, laughed, put themselves out there, and are less lonely as a result. Several have decided to continue acting. “It’s been fun to stretch my imagination, meet new people, have new experiences, and be joyful,” one said. “I hope people get to know me better,” said another.

Mia is part of a nationwide cohort of museums working to provide meaningful arts programming for older adults “55 and better” as part of an even larger effort to end ageism in museums and become leaders in this work. Mia’s Vitality Arts programs offer workshops in various art-making techniques, honoring older adults as creative, essential, and vital to their communities. Programming for older adults can combat isolation, create lasting friendships and bring joy to this growing population. Through the generosity of E.A. Michelson Philanthropy, which has spearheaded this work, Mia has partnered with CommonBond Communities, Centro Tyrone Guzman, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, Opportunity Partners, and now Rainbow Health, in collaboration with Theatre 55.

Richard Hitchler founded Theatre 55 in 2018 to provide a space for older adults to perform and to learn from professional actors, musical directors, choreographers and directors. The theater’s productions include Hair!, The Concert Experience, Rent, The Rocky Horror Show, and, opening this summer, A Chorus LineHitchler is leading the workshop at Mia along with Maria Asp, a visual artist and educator who guided participants to create a quilt that celebrates their lives and will serve as a backdrop for their performances. 

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