Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Awakin Calls » Mia Tagano

Mia Tagano: Actress, Activist
Apr 25, 2015: What My Grandmother Taught Me



Read: Call Transcript (Also: Mia Tagano: 96 Ways to Love)

Mia Tagano is an actress whose devotion to caring for her 95-year-old grandmother has touched many hearts.  "My grandmother is my best friend," Mia says. "She teaches me to be in the moment." She visits almost daily and cares for her grandmother, who has dementia and no short-term memory, and Mia shines her light on other nursing home residents as well.  In describing her visits, Mia notes that her grandmother "doesn’t know I came yesterday but is grateful to see me today. We laugh easy together, play solitaire in partnership, high-five with both hands when she “wins" at the end; we ... hold each other. She used to hold just one hand but nowadays she reaches for both and squeezes tightly. Sometimes, she falls asleep. See full.
Mia Tagano is an actress whose devotion to caring for her 95-year-old grandmother has touched many hearts.  "My grandmother is my best friend," Mia says. "She teaches me to be in the moment." She visits almost daily and cares for her grandmother, who has dementia and no short-term memory, and Mia shines her light on other nursing home residents as well.  In describing her visits, Mia notes that her grandmother "doesn’t know I came yesterday but is grateful to see me today. We laugh easy together, play solitaire in partnership, high-five with both hands when she “wins" at the end; we ... hold each other. She used to hold just one hand but nowadays she reaches for both and squeezes tightly. Sometimes, she falls asleep. Still holding on. When I go to leave, I kiss her face – literally – her forehead, her eyes, cheeks and mouth – she giggles and thanks me for coming to visit her. I thank her for her love. It is an intimate and beautiful period of our life together."

Mia is an accomplished actress in the Bay Area.  After receiving a B.A. in Drama from the Ohio State University and an M.F.A. in Theatre Arts through the University of Washington'€™s Professional Actor Training Program, Mia moved to New York City for acting, toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, and has performed in scores of stage productions since.  

A member of Actor'™s Equity Union and Screen Actor'™s Guild, Mia's television credits include "All My Children" and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent." Highlights of her stage acting career include performing 203 shows of "Far East" at the Lincoln Center in New York City; performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 10-hour play "Tantalus" directed by Sir Peter Hall and performed in Denver, London, and on tour around England; and performing the solo, one-woman show "Cincinnati" in San Francisco, Seattle, and London, directed then by Sir John Barton. She will next be seen in San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre's spring/summer production of "Love and Information" by Caryl Churchill, in which there will be only 15 actors to play 100 characters -- an exciting and "great challenge for an actor," according to Mia.

Yet amid all these professional acting roles, Mia has found her personal voice and her lifetime role in her numerous, impromptu performances of acts of compassion, goodness and generosity. "I believe that helping others is the best way to help yourself," Mia says.

In addition to her acting, Mia has worked as a teaching artist for over 20 years with youth and adults from preschool to college age. Currently she uses theatre arts to teach poetry to students in arts integration residencies with the "Playing With Poetry" program of Theatreworks of Silicon Valley. She previously worked for 5 years with the Performing Arts Workshop in San Francisco where the mission is to bring arts to inner city youth. She believes that every individual is creatively gifted in some way and she sees teaching as a way of facilitating and witnessing this light.  She has also been active in social change efforts, having prayed for an anti-nuclear world in peace walks with Jun San, and worked with her partner John Malloy with at-risk youth and native/indigenous communities. 

In giving advice to future generations of actors, Mia says, "Don't settle for mediocrity in yourself.  Always learn.  Find different teachers.  Not just one, but many teachers.  Learn a lot about the craft.  Find your voice.  Find what moves you.  Speak truth.  Be authentic."  As for her own acting, Mia says that "I can be exotic or homespun.  Perky or subdued.  Complex or straight-forward.  And I believe in the power of voice to change people's minds." Hear Mia's voice on this Awakin call, and experience how that voice has helped touch so many people's hearts in her grandmother's nursing home community and beyond!


Five Questions for Mia

What Makes You Come Alive?
When I am working on a play, especially with/on a character that is strong and confident and smart, it is as if I am soaring. If at the same time, the actors I get to work with are humble though talented, committed and generous, there is no other place I'd rather be. Unfortunately, these experiences are rare - amazing though when it happens. Also, working with youth, especially students who hide in front of you, who are afraid to be seen, afraid to make a mistake- <br />To witness their transformation, to them come fully into their own, their voice body, their joy -- it is beyond moving; it makes life worthwhile.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
When I was going to Ohio State as a communications major, I was having personal problems and was academically dismissed. After taking a few years off to get back on track, I petitioned to get back into the college of arts and sciences, specifically the journalism department. I was denied acceptance back into the school. So I wrote the dean and requested a meeting. In our meeting, he told me that the Journalism dept was full up, that there was a waiting list for even the pre-req classes. He asked me what I loved. <br />I told him theatre but that I could not get a degree in this. He said, why not? Follow what you love. FOLLOW WHAT YOU LOVE. I ended up getting my BA in Drama and then pursued my MFA at UofW in their professional acting training program before Moving to NYC. I've forgotten his name ... Dr. Pepple, I think it was, but I am so very grateful to him. He changed my life.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Last year in Feb. my partner John and I were invited to come to India -- it turned out to be life changing for me and also amazing preparation for the journey that I've had in the nursing home with my grandmother. I am more compassionate, more loving and patient and less judgmental because of the experience in Gujarat. The entire trip was paid for by an anonymous donor, this still amazes me and stops me. Perhaps angels do exist.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I don't really have a bucket list per se but I do have a dream. I have a recurring vision of a Home on a hill, not just any home but a center of sorts where my partner (who is considered one of the top grief counselors around) and I work with youth and adults; creative exploration -- finding healing by combining the work of mind body spirit and family. There would be movement, story-telling, journaling and play making; individual and group counseling. It would be a place of transformation with both contemplation and creation. It is a dream of mine.

One-line Message for the World?
Above all, be kind to others and to yourself.


Related Awakin Call Speakers
Nimesh Patel
Neil and Dillan
ServiceSpace Interns