Older performers star in Legacy Project

A group of ten inspiring entertainment professionals are celebrating the launch of a groundbreaking new online platform called The Performing Arts Legacy Project (PAL), a partnership between the Research Center for Arts and Culture (RCAC) and The Actors Fund. The site is designed to document, showcase, and represent older performers’ careers so there is a database of their incredible contributions to the world of arts and entertainment.

Project director Joan Jeffri, who is also Founder and Director of the RCAC, recruited Gilda Mirós, one of Senior Planet’s truly unforgettable members, as one of the first ten performers to participate in the project. Gilda is a performer, actor, former model, podcast producer, radio host, self-described ‘workaholic’, and all-around Renaissance woman. Additionally, Joan recruited another nine older actors over a period of eight months and worked with them for two years on the project.

“This first person testimony is very powerful,” Joan says. “Where are you going to get that? You don’t get this slice of history from a book, you don’t get it in college.”

Participation in the project, Joan says, was a lot like a acting rehearsal. The process was broken down into segments. In the first segment, younger actors interviewed the ten older actors for oral histories. The second segment of the project was set up like a classroom. Joan paired the actors with ten young fellows who are graduate students in the fields of arts, theater, health, and aging. Then, for seven weeks, one fellow visited each actor’s residence. They had to make a ‘curated life review’ of the performers: a ten-minute video of them going through their memorabilia. Then, they broke down their experience into categories (such as Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional, acting, directing) and logged it chronologically on an Excel spreadsheet. They created a database, in essence, which Joan recruited a webmaster to build.

“We had people who didn’t know technology at all,” Joan says. “One person was a total technophobe, but at 85, he learned how to do it. He wouldn’t let his intern touch it! He felt totally empowered.”

“It was frightening for some people,” Gilda says. “There’s a computer, you have to get your stuff together, you have to import it into this device. It can be scary!”

“The young people were using technology terms and the language we didn’t know,” Gilda adds. “We’re learning from them and they’re learning from us. It’s an exchange. It’s a beautiful relationship.”

“A lot of the actors said one of the reasons they wanted to do this was to help future generations,” Joan says. “The young people would ask the performers, ‘What advice do you have?’ Nobody said, ‘get a voice teacher.’ Instead, somebody said, ’Be enough for yourself.’  That is a moment these kids are never going to forget.”

“Ultimately, the process isn’t really so much about performing,” Joan adds. “It was about living. We have one actor who said, ‘before this project I was in three kinds of therapy. After three weeks on the project I stopped my therapy because I found my community. I DO have something!’”

So, how can you secure your spot on the Performing Arts Legacy Project site?

“We say 62-plus,” Joan says. “You have to have a substantial enough career to document. Sporadic work is okay — people are teachers, directors, actors, playwrights, singers. But if you spent 60 years as a plumber and ten minutes as an actor, that’s probably not good.”

“You have to be disciplined to join this group,” Gilda says. “You can’t be lazy. Nobody else is going to do it for you. You’ll get guidance and assistance, but you have to work!”

“Most people think our group is retired,” she adds. “Little do they know. A man who is in our first group all of a sudden is a Tony Award winner! André De Shields (who won best featured actor in a musical for Hadestown) got his first Tony. AT 73! They asked him how long it took. He said fifty years.  He’s representing a group which is still powerful. We’re not over ‘til we’re over! That’s the message.”

PHOTO:  In partnership with The Research Center for Arts and Culture, The Actors Fund held a launch event for the Performing Arts Legacy Project website at Actors’ Equity in New York City on May 6, 2019. The 10 original Performing Arts Legacy Project Founding Performers were joined by Founder and Director of The Research Center for Arts and Culture Joan Jeffri, and Actors’ Equity Executive Director and Actors Fund Trustee Mary McColl at the launch event. (l-r): Joan Jeffri, George Bartenieff, Susan Lehman, Len Cariou, Mary McColl, Richard Masur, André De Shields, Virginia Wing, Michael David Arian, Gilda Mirós, Agosto Machado, Vinie Burrows. Credit: Jay Brady Photography.
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