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creative:impact - The joy of creativity is in all of us

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Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Limelight was a type of incandescent light once used in theaters to produce a very strong illumination often at the front of stage. Our Limelight does the same. We seek to illuminate - through the power of theatre & media - places, people and ideas often less visible or understood.

Limelight is a theatre consulting company. We create theatre and use theatre as a story-telling, community building, and/or problem-solving tool.

At Limelight we encourage you to think of theatre more broadly than something solely on a stage, but as a flexible and malleable art form that can be utilized in both theatrical venues and many ‘non-theatrical’ spaces such as schools, government, business, hospitals, and community organizations.

Theatre is many things: a presentational art form; an ephemeral medium dedicated to the idea of immediacy and even a transformational tool. How theatre is created and how it is used is situational.

At Limelight we work with you to understand your wants and needs and craft a theatrical solution. The solution could be a series of drama/theatre inspired workshops to increase an organization’s capacity or communication skills; scripting and performance coaching for a presentation; or a theatre piece that tells the story of the organization.


Decky Alexander
Jessica 'Decky' Alexander

Jessica ‘Decky’ Alexander is a professor of drama/theatre education at Eastern Michigan University and 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 underheard individuals and communities.

Alexander’s current creative and scholarly endeavors include the use of theatre for faculty development; community performance, and community-based learning. Through Engage@EMU, the Family Empowerment Program, a supportive services program in affordable housing, and the Prevention Theatre Collective, a high school theatre program, which creates theatre to assist in the prevention of substance abuse and use.

Recent projects include: Homebound, a podcast on intergenerational dialogue between seniors and young people during COVID 19; Vital: A Fugue on Aging, An Ethnographic Performance on vulnerable seniors and caregivers , and In the Neighborhood, an art creating and community conversation in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

Recent publications include: Disrupting a Disruption or Live Everything, in Community Engagement 2.0? Dialogues on the Future of the Civic in the Disrupted University, and Addressing the Student Debt Crisis: Steps Universities Can Take for Academic Leaders 2019) and the forthcoming Applied Theatre & Youth compendium published by Routledge.


Tyler Calhoun
Tyler Calhoun
Tyler Calhoun

Tyler is a performer, director, and writer living in Ypsilanti, MI. He received his MA in Interpretation and Performance Studies from Eastern Michigan University. He has been working with Limelight since Fall 2018 as a performer in Vital: A Fugue on Aging and an artistic collaborator on the HomeBound Podcast. Tyler has performed with many theatre companies and taught in different schools across Michigan. He is very passionate about ethnographic inquiry and autoethnographic performance of queer experiences. He is dedicated to arts access, broadening the performance industry, and expanding folx notions of what theatre is and how it manifests in our world. He explores these notions in his podcast "Life in Theatre" which interviews artists working in all areas of the entertainment industry outside of Broadway. Listen here: https://lifeintheatre.buzzsprout.com/

For more information on Tyler visit: https://www.tylercalhoun.com/



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Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in every Tuesday as we meet creative guests with roots in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs and services impact and add to our local quality of life, place and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. You know, Creative Washtenaw recently held a call with the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, formerly known as the Michigan Arts and Cultural Affairs Council, that was the subject was creative aging. And on that call, I met Tyler Calhoun of Limelight and learned something about the creative aging programs Limelight was offering. And so, I wanted to know more. So, I invited him to come to creative:impact and talk with all of us. Tyler encouraged me to include the founder of Limelight, Jessica Alexander, known to most of us as Decky, to join us. Tyler and Decky, welcome to creative:impact.

Decky Alexander: Thank you so much for having us, Deb. I appreciate you!

Tyler Calhoun: Yeah, thank you so much.

Deb Polich: Well, you know, Decky, it seems that all creative roads in Ypsilanti lead back to you.

Decky Alexander: Oh my God.

Tyler Calhoun: True.

Decky Alexander: I am not a gatekeeper, but I have been rooted here for 25 years, both in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

Deb Polich: Right. And you have appointments here at EMU as a professor of drama and theater.

Decky Alexander: Correct.

Deb Polich: And also serve as the director of Engage at EMU.

Decky Alexander: Correct.

Deb Polich: And you have a few other gigs like Limelight.

Decky Alexander: Yes, Side hustle.

Deb Polich: Yes, side hustle. Exactly. So tell us what's the mission of Limelight?

Decky Alexander: So, it's a theater consulting company, and it's kind of been my dream of twenty five years of figuring out ways in which we can use theater as a tool--a real, intentional tool--to address inside and solve what we call real world problems. So, it's theater-inspired solutions to complex issues like aging, vulnerable seniors, caregivers, and figuring out how theater can either give voice or tell a story that might not have been told around a particular idea or type of people. So, Limelight is a theater consulting company, and our portfolio, currently, is really focused on aging and older adults.

Deb Polich: Well, we'll get to some of that deeper thought in a second, but I wanted to find out, Tyler, how you what path brought you to Limelight?

Tyler Calhoun: Oh my gosh. Like, all paths lead to Decky? That's how I got started. I started as an undergraduate student at Eastern, took a couple of Decky's classes and fell in love with the way that she teaches and just the way that she uses theater. And then, I went back to Eastern for grad school for interpretation and performance studies, and that's when I learn more about applied theater and, you know, using theater in specific contexts, you know, with really intentional purposes, trying to get some kind of an outcome. And so, I really fell in love with taking theater outside of theater and using it in nontraditional spaces to create change and to affirm experiences and many other things as well. And Decky kind of just opened up that world for me when I was in grad school. And so, when she started Limelight and she was like, "Hey, Puffy! I'm doing this thing!" I was like, "Yeah, sign me up."

Deb Polich: And Puffy is your nickname, right?

Tyler Calhoun: Yup, I got that in my improv class from Decky many years ago.

Deb Polich: Okay, Puffy, I'll have to change that. Oh, so, you know, arts education programs are pretty ubiquitous. We know a lot about them. But what's a creative aging program?

Decky Alexander: That's a really good question. So, we have different...so, we kind of distinguish between sort of participant-centered experiences and presentational experiences. And so, when we have creative aging initiatives, we have a couple of programs in which we're using the tools of drama and theater, including improvization and storytelling to foster sort of aging, I guess, engagement of older adults. And we have a program called ReGen, which is an intergenerational sort of storytelling workshop and community that brings together older and younger adults around the idea of story. And it isn't necessarily older adults just sharing their stories for younger folks, but it's really looking at using story as a means to foster equity, connection, possibility between the generations. So, when we talk about sometimes creative aging, we're wanting to create spaces for older adults to tell their stories, to be creative in a space that isn't just about them, but also about the other people that are participating in that space.

Deb Polich: So, these aren't, as one might say, your great grandparents' arts and crafts programs that happened in the retirement home.

Decky Alexander: They're not. I mean, no, no, no, no, no. We're not making, you know, I guess, popsicle stick kind of frames and things of that sort. I don't know if that's what people do in that course. But yes, no, it's really figuring out how to use, like, what we do organically, Deb. I mean, we are organically all storytellers, and we have things to share, both past and present and even future. And that's kind of how we centered our ReGen initiative on.

Outdoor Limelight meeting.
Decky Alexander
Outdoor Limelight meeting.

Deb Polich: So, Tyler, how do you respond when you're working with people and they say, "I don't have a creative bone in my body," or "I can't act and you're going to do theater with me?" How do you ease people in?

Tyler Calhoun: Yeah, that's an amazing question. And I think that's part of the first day of ReGen is letting everybody know you are creative. Even if you don't think you are creative, you are. And the best way that we can kind of jump into that is usually a game or an activity. And one of the ones that we use in the first day of ReGen is the six-word story. So, it's all about the power of limits and using six words to tell a story, and you can tell a lot with just six words. And so, we'll be listening to our participants and what they share throughout that first session, and we'll pick some lines that they might share with us and turn them into six-word stories and then share them with them at the end and let them know, like, "You made this!" And you didn't even know it. And so then, we empower them in the next session to think about a six-word story that they would like to tell that then relates to, you know, a splice in their life or a moment or specific prompt. And they share that with us, and they feel really empowered to go and create those six-word stories because they have that power. They just didn't know. You know, it takes an outside eye to let you know and affirm you that, "Yeah, you can be creative" because it gets lost along the way very easily.

Deb Polich: That's fun because I actually do that game with my grandkids. Four-word stories, three-word story, six-word stories. We do all the time. So, creative:impact is continuing here on 89 one WEMU. I'm your host. Deb Polich, and my guests are Decky Alexander and Tyler Calhoun of Limelight. We're talking about their creative aging programs. You know, I'd like to jump back to something that you mentioned about older people claiming not to be creative. And I'd like to just explore for a second that NASA--yes, the space program--conducted a famous study on creative genius of humans to measure our creativity, how creative we remain over the years. And this is a long-term study. You guys are, I'm sure, familiar with it. And that, you know, at five years old, children test creative. But by the time they turn 30, like two percent--it's 98 percent when you're five years old. And by the time you're 30, it's like two percent test to be creative.

Tyler Calhoun: Wow.

Decky Alexander: Hmm.

Deb Polich: I'm wondering, Decky, you know, you've been in education for a long time. Why do you think this happened? What happens to that creativity? Where does it go?

Decky Alexander: Well, you know, in my classes, I have to give permission, even in my college classes, to create creative time. You know, we're so programmed and we're so focused on outcome and the right answer on getting on something for finite, we don't create spaces, whether educationally or otherwise, to just sort of, you know, I guess, free range, right? To sort of just spitball, right? And so, part of it, I think, it's cultural. I mean, I realized, even in teaching, I have to give permission for people to be a player. To play. Like I have to say...

Deb Polich: It's hard.

Decky Alexander: Like, you're not going to have to apply this right now. You don't have to think about how to use it. Just be. And so, part of it is think is the opportunity to create spaces of being. And I know that might sound kind of, you know, I don't know, I don't want to use the word new-agey, but it really is a necessity to, like, mental health, to find spaces of being. And one of the things that I think creative aging initiatives need, including using story, is that it's about immediacy. You know, we are valuing the immediate moment. The tellings in the moment. And we're creating spaces for being. So, I think that is potentially why, you know, the five percent to the two percent or that, you know, the 30 percent to the two percent when you're older, is that we don't create cultural spaces.

Deb Polich: So, Tyler, we have about two minutes left. Can you give me a story about somebody who had an a-ha moment with the work that you guys have been doing?

Limelight Zoom meeting.
Decky Alexander
Limelight Zoom meeting.

Tyler Calhoun: Oh my gosh, OK. An a-ha moment. Honestly, one of the most captivating moments was during the ReGen storytelling workshops, and they;re intergenerational. So, we get people from all ages. We start from kind of middle school and go anywhere from 90 years old. And we had a 90 year-old woman named Misjani in one of our workshops. And just every time that she had something to share--and she was very selective about when she shared--the Zoom room was quiet. You couldn't hear a thing except her voice, because just the passion that we all had to listen to her and what she had to share in that moment. It showed, you know, that story has power. Story has value. And she felt that, and we all saw that. And I think it encouraged everybody else to share more too in the rest of the workshops that we had.

Deb Polich: And her voice had power too.

Tyler Calhoun: Oh, completely.

Limelight Zoom meeting.
Decky Alexander
Limelight Zoom meeting.

Deb Polich: Well, I'm getting up there into those creative aging years, so I'll look forward to more of these kind of programs, the stuff that you guys are doing in the next generations, we hope, as well. Decky and Tyler. Really. Thanks for joining us on creative:impact and sharing this work. It's very important.

Decky Alexander: We're so honored. This is great. Thank you so much.

Tyler Calhoun: Truly.

Everyone at Limelight.
Decky Alexander
Everyone at Limelight.

Deb Polich: Thank you. That's Decky Alexander and Tyler Calhoun of Limelight. We've been talking about creative aging programs and how we are never too old to rediscover our creativity. Find out more about Decky and Tyler and Limelight at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Please join me next week to meet another creative Washtenaw guest on this: Your community NPR Radio Station 89 one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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