Creative Campus Spotlight: Eastern Michigan University

Since becoming a TimeSlips Creative Campus partner, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) now equips its students with creative skills to apply to their work outside of the classroom. Through an EMU program called Engage, in which student and community organizations collaborate, these students are getting trained in the TimeSlips’ curriculum to connect with people living with dementia at the local Ypsilanti Senior Center. EMU theater students will put their improvisation skills and imaginations to the test as they facilitate storytelling workshops for Ypsilanti older adults in the community. Hear how EMU graduate student, Sam Carter, Engage team member, Tyler Calhoun, and Engage Director and Professor Decky Alexander embraced this special opportunity, and what they want others to learn from their experiences.

TimeSlips: What is the biggest joy you see for students leading TimeSlips sessions? 
Tyler: When an older adult is willing to go along with a new activity that a student has prepared. It goes a long way in validating the student and motivates them to explore the work deeper and find meaningful ways to keep storytellers engaged. 

TimeSlips:  What is your hope for elders that they can experience in their daily lives? 
Sam: I hope that elders can experience joy, laughter, adventure, and creativity in their daily lives. As we age it is easy to fall into a rhythm, forgetting to make time to play and nurture your inner child. There is no age limit for creativity and play! I hope that all people are able to tap into that part of themselves, even for just a few brief minutes of the day. 

TimeSlips:  If you could wave a magic wand for both students and elders as they build relationships with each other, what would you wish for? 
Tyler: I would wish that older and younger people could listen and share, free from judgment of others and, maybe more importantly, judgment of themselves. When we make it past those judgements that opens us up to true listening and reciprocal sharing which fosters relationships.
Decky: I think I would wish for moments of consistent and  convergent laughter —cultivating those can ingratiate people towards each other regardless of age, perspective, and acumen.

TimeSlips:  What was your biggest “Aha!” moment when doing TimeSlips? 
Sam: During my time with TimeSlips I have watched many seniors rekindle their creative flame. My biggest aha! moment came following a workshop at the Ypsilanti Senior Center. Tyler and I had a participant tell us that at the start of this process they were convinced that creative drama and storytelling was not for them! By the end of the first workshop they were hooked and came back every week. It made my heart smile that we were able to empower someone to create and foster a new skill. 

TimeSlips: It’s 11:00 p.m. You’ve been busy (grading/studying). What do you go into the pantry to eat? 
Sam: I would make myself a smoothie! I typically go for Strawberry, Banana, Nutella, and Oat Milk. In this hypothetical my roommates are awake and love the sound of late night blender-ing.
Tyler: Sour gummy worms!!
Decky: Well…last night I snuck a couple Honey Roasted Peanuts….and topped it off  at 11:00 p.m. –red wine, a Pinot or a Coates du Rhone. It’s been that kind of year.. 

TimeSlips: What can college students learn from their elders? What can the elders learn from their college-aged partners?
Sam: The ever evolving technology has had both positive and negative impact on people of all ages. The younger generation was raised with high tech devices and instant gratification. I think college students can learn from elders to slow down and enjoy the little things. Older individuals were not raised with social media and instant access to multiple points of view. For this reason I believe elders can learn flexibility from their college aged peers.
Tyler: College students can learn a lot of history and culture from older adults that they won’t learn in their textbooks. They’ll also learn about skills that may have been forgotten, or transformed into something different with time. Elders can learn skills too, new skills that weren’t available to them when they were growing up, and they can get exposed to trends and new culture that is of interest to the younger generations.
Decky: I’m not sure ‘learn’ is the correct word here, I would use the world experience or witness from each other. In that way, I believe both older adults/elders and youngers can actually experience uninterrupted time with each other, with very little agenda, or preconceived outcomes, but the privilege of space and time to listen, be present, and get know, through the medium of story, someone beyond your immediate sphere and surroundings.

TimeSlips: How does this campus program with TimeSlips benefit your college’s overall mission? 
Decky: Central to EMU’s mission is to be or strive to be  a school of opportunity  and on with local and global impact. TimeSlips to be a catalyst for creative engagement with part of our community who may not have access to be part of our university community in traditional ways. TimeSlips is using the medium of story to enrich the lives of those who have a 1000 stories but cannot often retrieve them, and as a result provides a unique academic tool for students, particularly in applied and educational theatre, to practice and use for years to come. 

Meet the Interviewees

Sam Carter (she/her/hers) is a Michigan based Arts Manager, Choreographer, Director and Teaching Artist. She is a current MFA candidate at Eastern Michigan University studying Applied Drama and Theatre for the Young. Sam’s research focuses on creating theatre for, with, and about individuals with physical and neuro differences.

Tyler Calhoun (he/him/his) is a theatre artist living and working in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He holds an MA in Interpretation and Performance Studies at Eastern Michigan University and currently works there in the Office of Engage@EMU supporting communications and project coordination. Tyler also helps lead the theatre consulting company Limelight, LLC. out of Ann Arbor, MI. 

Jessica ‘Decky’ Alexander is a professor of applied drama/theatre and the Director of Engage@EMU, an office whose mission is to cultivate community and university collaboration. Both as a performer and as a faculty member, Decky has used the mediums of theatre and performance to foster voice with underserved and under-heard individuals and communities.