By Lin Sue Flood
Photos courtesy of Hospice of the Valley
It’s a little magical how a small theater troupe can walk through the door and instantly transform the space around them.
That’s exactly what five talented actors do so effortlessly as part of Phoenix Theatre’s Partners That Heal program. They travel all over the Valley, using improv, music, storytelling, and movement to engage and delight audiences of every age and ability.
Recently, they visited Hospice of the Valley’s new Dementia Care and Education Campus in central Phoenix. They spent time with residents at the assisted living center, members of the adult day club and preschoolers in the adjoining child center. Working in perfect harmony, they lead people who are living with dementia on a spontaneous journey that unlocks their imaginations.
“We all have that child inside of us and we let them be kids again. We give them a chance to play,” says PTH member Mike Lawler. “And we feel like we’re part of the care team.”
Marshal Glass agrees. “This light goes on inside of them and it’s just wonderful to see. Then the staff tells us the patient’s never done that before!”
The actors harness joy by sparking happy memories with familiar songs and stories.
“We come in and people who are showing no emotion or expression immediately start remembering moments,” shares Sally Jo Bannow. “Somehow, it taps into their imagination and creativity.”
“We want to get a smile on people’s faces. I get chills just thinking about it,” Kim Manning gushes. “That’s the whole reason we’re here.”
“You can tell they’re so connected and waiting for more,” adds Brian Sweis. “It’s so rewarding, and we just feel honored to be a part of that.”
Partners That Heal has visited more than 70,000 people in our community over the last decade. “They appeal to preschoolers; they appeal to someone who’s in their 70s and 80s with dementia. They meet everyone where they’re at,” says Dementia Campus Enrichment Coordinator Angela Hofler.
“Their stories might be about someone’s favorite animal, or maybe we’re all going on an African safari, and the next minute we’re waterskiing in the ocean having ice cream. They bring so much fun to us. We are lucky to have them spreading their magic and touching so many lives!”