On Wednesday, Oct. 10, an event unlike any other comes to Oak Park for the first time. Sponsored by Wednesday Journal and A Tribe Called Aging, the ChangingAging Tour is a three-part event blending medical science, storytelling and live music.
Mike Bolinder part of the ChangingAging team, says that, in a nutshell, the ChangingAging Tour is a cultural expression that challenges ageism in our society. According to Bolinder, ageism is not a negative association about older people; it is instead having a positive or negative association about someone old or young, based on how many years they have lived. Bolinder says these stereotypes are damaging to society as a whole. The ChangingAging Tour aims to topple the stigma and upend cultural stereotypes about age.
“At the end of the day,” Bolinder said, “we believe the secret to happiness, particularly in the second half of life, is dispelling the myth that youth is perfection and that aging means rapid decline.”
ChangingAging has been around in various forms for five years, and Bolinder says in that time, they have held over 500 live events. While the group has roots in scientific research, they approach the issue of aging through culture, using theater, music and storytelling to challenge perceptions of age. Bolinder calls it, “part rock-and-roll, part aging festival. It’s a TED talk mashed up with Woodstock.”
More importantly, he says the theater involved is “non-fiction” theater. “All of our material is true. The stories we tell are based on Bill’s extraordinary 30-plus year career as a physician and professor working with elders.”
“Bill” is Dr. Bill Thomas, physician, author, entrepreneur, musician, teacher and farmer, whose work explores the terrain of human aging. During the ChangingAging Tour, Thomas presents the evening segment, called Life’s Most Dangerous Game. Through song, storytelling and poetry, Thomas presents neuroscience evidence and insights into aging and care through a cultural format.
The afternoon session, called Disrupting Dementia, is another nonfiction theater experience aimed at turning conventional ideas about dementia on their heads by focusing on what we can learn from people with dementia. The session includes a performance by musician Samite Mulondo, a Ugandan refugee who starred in the film Alive Inside, which tells the story of using music to reach patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. While helpful for those living with dementia and their allies, Bolinder says this experience is for the entire community “because it’s about the human condition.”
For Bolinder, Oak Park is particularly well-suited to host the ChangingAging Tour. “I’m learning that Oak Park is a unique community, and it has contributed two things to our culture in America that are indelible. The first is Frank Lloyd Wright’s commitment to architecture. You see that at work throughout the country today. The second is McDonald’s.”
Think what you like about McDonald’s and its food, but Bolinder points out that there are aspects of the restaurant chain beyond the cheeseburger, such as the colors, the catchy slogans and the entry-level jobs it offers that are a cultural touchstone for our country.
Bolinder says an overarching message for the community is that the ChangingAging Tour is for all ages. The cast is intergenerational, and Bolinder promises music fans that the “next Beyoncé” is one of the performers.
“The show is for everyone. If you approach the idea that your life is not over when you get old, you’ll live your life differently.”
For Oak Park and for the country as a whole, he sees great benefits to rethinking the role of aging in our society. “We’ve segregated old people because we’re afraid of them,” Bolinder said. “If we integrate older people into our society again, it will give us all opportunity to be enriched. Having older people as part of your life helps everyone live a better life.”