Theater production on aging alone returns to Ypsilanti

A free theater production that aims to "catalyze dialogue, raise awareness, and affirm the experience" of older adults aging alone will return to Ypsilanti this month.

Ann Arbor theater consulting company Limelight and Eastern Michigan University (EMU) will bring "Solo Acts: A Theatrical Compilation and Community Conversation on Solo Aging" to EMU's Sponberg Theater on Aug. 18. RSVPs are required through Limelight's website.

EMU professor and Limelight member Jessica "Decky" Alexander explains that Solo Acts was "built over two years" by both the performers and the creative team at Limelight. They conducted numerous interviews with older adults to accurately portray the experiences of solo agers – older adults who live alone either by circumstance or by choice.

"We use these interviews to generate overall themes and ideas that contribute to the field and help solve a community problem," says Alexander, noting that the United States has the world's largest population of solo agers. "As a community-based theater artist, I wanted to use that tool to help that population."

Each "Solo Acts" performance is followed by a discussion about solo aging, covering topics like how routine affects solo agers' day-to-day lives, or the barriers and bridges that solo agers may experience while navigating health care. The piece has been performed in Ypsilanti, Detroit, and Buffalo, N.Y., so far. Alexander hopes that bringing the show to various groups, such as social service organizations and policy makers, shines a brighter spotlight on solo agers. But she has found that audiences have more often been made up of solo agers themselves.

"We wanted to do this for health professionals and policymakers, but it was solo agers coming instead. They love seeing themselves, and having others see them," she says. "This show has the ability to be much more socially transformative."

Hananiah Wiggins, a "Solo Acts" performer and diversity, equity, inclusion, and activism coordinator at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, initially joined "Solo Acts" as an interviewer. Wiggins feels a personal connection to the stories being told on stage.

"I have a lot of family members who share some of these experiences," they say. "I think of my father, who as a two-time cancer survivor couldn’t see family during the pandemic, whether they were five minutes or five hours away, and would sometimes go days without hearing someone’s voice."

Wiggins also says the diversity in the "Solo Acts" cast mirrors the diversity they saw during the interview process while developing the "Solo Acts" script.

"We know how important representation is, and so often seniors are left out of that conversation," they say. "These are the voices in our community that helped build this show, and will help form a national conversation on what it is to be a solo ager and what it means to be a community with solo agers."

For more info or to RSVP to the upcoming performance, visit Limelight's website or contact Alexander at Decky.Alexander@emich.edu.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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