Farrah Hoffmire is on a quest.
That journey began in 2014 when Hoffmire founded HEART Artist Guild and Theatre Company, a group that mentors adults with special needs. As part of this year’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the company will present “HEART Radio Lab: Love Frequency 2018,” a show that Hoffmire hopes will be another step toward her goal.
“For me, it’s connecting with the community at large,” she said. “Most programs for adults with special needs are 1. non-stimulating and, 2. not engaged in the community. They’re in these workshops and they're isolated.”
Around 2016, Hoffmire focused on the arts, which encourages community engagement and self-expression. She had no idea the project would evolve the way it has.
The group of adults 21 and older currently numbers 18. The “HEARTists” Piccolo Spoleto performance at the Charleston Music Hall, will feature theater and music, with support from local musicians. Maari Suorsa and Henry Riggs of the comedy duo Nameless Numberhead are mentoring the group in theater.
Before the performance, HEART is presenting a visual art show featuring works created under the mentorship of Quenby Keisler.
"We are hoping to give them a set of skills to work with in making different types of art,” said Keisler, who has been a volunteer for around a year and a half. “We give them a broad range to experience and explore so they can see what different mediums are like and see what they enjoy.”
The hope, Keisler said, is to allow the residents of Charleston to enjoy a part of their community that might have been hidden from them before.
“(The HEARTists) get to have a sense of pride,” Keisler said. “It’s really great for them to be able to be themselves and have people loving them for being themselves.”
HEART will also be selling some of the art as part of the exhibition. HEARTist and Love Frequency performer Rebecca Abele still remembers when her first piece sold.
“It made me feel like I did something wonderful,” Abele said. “Somebody actually bought it and it made me feel proud inside. My heart was full of love.”
When Hoffmire considers the future of HEART, she envisions more and more tendrils through the community, and a home base located in a walkable, populated district. But her ultimate goal is a HEART home.
“These guys are aging and their parents are aging,” Hoffmire said. “That’s a big component of their future. We want to be … of help in that.”
Abele loved the idea of joining a HEART home.
“I feel like I’ve gained a second family,” she said.
For now, Hoffmire and the HEARTists are focused on their Piccolo show, one they have been working on for close to a year (including a workshop in December). They hope the performances will ease the fears some have of the unknown, Hoffmire said.
"I want to strip away (the need to tell) people they're about to see a show that has people with special needs in it,” she said. “I want that to not be an issue at all. I want people to experience these guys and realize they're just like the rest of us.”