Improv, Road Trips and Mental Health

A few people have been asking me about a conference I attended last weekend in Chicago. It was the inaugural “Yes And Mental Health” conference and it was the first of its kind. Though it seems specialists have been using improv as a tool in helping folks with mental health issues for some time now, this was the first conference that melded these worlds together. The conference itself seemed predominantly for psychologists and people working in mental health, however there were tremendous benefits to attending for people like me, who are just improv instructors. (Not just an improv instructor, but like, there aren’t any credentials after my signature, is all I’m saying. Although I suppose I could put my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science up there, but I’m neither pretentious nor desperate, so let’s get on with it.)

Back in April, I co-organized an event for the benefit of women in the comedy community in Toronto with my buds Alicia Douglas and Candace Meeks. The idea was that if other women in the comedy had gone through some of the garbage that we had gone through, it might be a good thing to have somewhere to talk about it, and to use some other skills like mindfulness and even improv itself to help us in dealing with said garbage.

Fast forward to last weekend, where in an effort to gain more knowledge and information about using mental health and wellness techniques for our own future workshops, we ended up in Chicago and were privy to exceptionally interesting lectures and fantastic performances all geared towards combining improv, mental health and wellbeing.

“The root of improvisation is in social change.” Rachael Mason

The weekend kicked off with a panel with notable improvisers such as Rachael Mason and Jimmy Carrane as well as some of the therapists who would be running the workshops over the weekend. Unfortunately, we missed the majority of this discussion due to it taking a long-ass time to get from Toronto to Chicago, but what I did get from this is that improv itself was used as a tool to help actors get in touch with the truth of their characters; while places using improv for entertainment like The Second City began also with a view of social change, using satire as subversion.

The next day, Mason talked about ways to correct racist and prejudiced behaviour as improv teachers and discussed the notion of creating “brave spaces” where every idea has the right to be explored. And though this means difficult subjects may come to light in class, it is there where improv teachers need to be as brave and judgement-less as their students in order for them to do the same. 

Improv has the power to provide very similar releases to what people sometimes experience through therapy; the main difference is that improv cannot provide the after-care. And that’s where a lot of people were talking about bridging the two fields and taking that conversation much more seriously going forward.  

We talked about the healing power of improv in a lecture by MSW Assael Romanelli. This was a bit more complicated to summarize but his work has proven that what happens when people play improv can generate growth in individuals; socially and personally. Anyone who’s done an improv program can probably say like “yeah, no shit!” to that, but he had some really cool actual brain- science to back it up. 

We learned about Therapeutic Improv from Azizi Marshall, a Drama Therapist. She taught us some games that can help encourage playfulness, expressiveness, creativity and interpersonal trust in individuals. (followed up, of course, with this notion that anything beyond these games would necessitate the leadership of a trained therapist or social worker.)

We watched an improv troupe comprised entirely of therapists, another entirely of people aged 50+ and then, watched a musical troupe have their set dissected by therapists in the form of a podcast. This opened up my view of who improv can belong to; because I often see it as a pursuit by mostly 20-30 year old actor/comedians, but these groups broke down those barriers (and analyzed the shit outta them!)

We learned the improv games that work very well when teaching improv people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and learned of the incredible strides in communicating some individuals can make in the playful and judgement-free zone of an improv class.

We took a musical impov workshop with Stephanie McCullough, which was fun and incredibly therapeutic. This was pretty groundbreaking for me because I typically see musical improv as a series of people either trying to outshine each other with the quality of their voice or their ability to rhyme. This was neither; it was musical and personal and political and I loved all of it.

Some of the workshops were running simultaneously, so sadly we weren’t able to take in every single one we would have liked. (I’m bummed I missed out on Margot Escott’s Play for Play’s Sake, but I’m hoping to find out about it on her podcast.

The whole weekend was an incredible re-set; remembering that improv is so much more than competition to. Remembering how it has helped me through some pretty crappy experiences of my own. Learning how I can apply certain learnings and techniques to make me a better improv teacher. Meeting new people who also see improv as being as powerful as I do. Sharing the experience with two of my best buddies who I also happen to admire the crap out of given their knowledge and experience with this craft.  Oh, and also, deep dish pizza.

I’m happy to talk to his in more detail with people individually, but right now, I’m inspired. We need a venue for our next workshop, and I can’t wait to get back in the classroom with my Level As.

Thanks so much to the organizers and everyone responsible for putting on the inaugural Yes And Mental Health Conference on a wonderful conference & all the best keeping this momentum going!

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New Episode of @StrugglePod: E09 – Summer’s End

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http://theconstantstruggle.podbean.com/e/e09-summers-end/

Well kids, summer’s over and with that brings a whole new world of struggles, but not without mentioning the break we took from them during the warm months to relax and refuel the tank.

In this episode, Nick talks about his trip to Chicago, IL with his buddies and Brie mentions her voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the Atlantic Fringe Fest. Both reference their respective cities’ great garlic-bread-type products.
We discuss new and ongoing projects and how to jump back into them now that the colder months are upon us.
Special podcast shout-outs to:

Special Parks Canada shout-outs to:

  • The Citadel
  • Green Gables Heritage Place
  • Province House National Historic Site of Canada

Special Toronto festivals shout-outs to:

And to everything garlic bread, we thank you.

 

Check it out on iTunes, Google Play or at the link right under the banner!

#StruggleOn

Windy Inspiration (This is not a post about farts)

It’s still cold, it’s still shitty out, but guess what? I went to Chicago.

That’s right, the Second City itself. I’m a little late to the draw at writing about this, but that’s because I had to spend a bunch of time putting together this cool collage:

Chicacollage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mmm. Collagy-goodness.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you all about the trip in super-extensive detail or anything, as this isn’t a travel blog, let’s be CLEAR about that! But what I will do, is tell you that if you think there’s somewhere in the world that will inspire you, you should visit it, even in the dead middle of February where it’s equally, if not more cold, than your own crap-cold igloo of a town, because it probably will.

Inspire you, that is.

My buddy Sharilyn had mentioned she would be heading to Chicago in February to take a Second City intensive & I happened to be “dark” the week she was planning to go. (That’s TV talk for “the stars of my show had to go to a tropical place and work on their tans,” so we had to stop shooting for a week.)

Nevertheless, bit by bit, the plan came together and sure enough, we ended up in the Windy City, catching a different comedy show every single night we were there. (And bits and pieces of the SNL40 Special, which in hindsight, we should have just watched in its entirety.)

When I was asked at customs what I was doing in Chicago, and I answered “watching a whole wack-load of comedy,” it was a completely plausible answer. I feel like there aren’t many places in the world where you can tell a customs officer that, and not be thrown into some strange questioning cell.

Despite a bout of food-poisoning, the trip was a dream. An frozen, shivering, ice-cube of a dream, but a dream nonetheless. I imagine myself one day, holding a magical green card, actively avoiding some of the dodgier modes of transportation in the city when it gets dark, and performing every night on the various stages that launched the careers of so many of my heroes.

I wasn’t sad when I came back to Toronto. Because it just so happens that a bunch of my heroes started out right here too.

So now it’s back to work, a little more inspired.

Con Round 4, Fringe Round 2, Head Spinning Round and Round

It’s been longer than I would have liked it to have been between blog posts, but there was a good period there were my sole energy was spent on trying to stay awake, and thus blogging became less of a priority.  I have a new bed now, so that seems to have helped the situation, for now.

Also, I just read something that really inspired me to keep writing my little CCCs.   So back on the saddle again I go.

Today I am beginning the first day of my 4th Second City Conservatory course.  This is, for those of you who are not aware, when we begin to write what will eventually become our own little Second City-style revue.  We’re down two (and nearly 3 for a while there) people from when we began the process in January.  (Was it January?  Let me go back and check…yup January.)  We’re starting fresh with a new teacher (this guy)  and we were just asked to read this incredible blog about creating a Second City show from the perspective of a former Main Stage director in Chicago.  I was glad to have had the opportunity to have worked at the Second City as a host, specifically because I was able to witness this process first hand. (Not through the eyes of a director, however – Melody didn’t think the surgery would be particularly beneficial on her end…)  However,  I got to see what it was like for one show to slowly absorb new material and evolve into what would become the next revue.  I saw it and I wanted so badly to be a part of it.   And here we are in Con 4, a taste of what it would be if we were performers on the Main Stage.

 

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I look forward to documenting (more closely hopefully) the process from here until our big sexy Conservatory 6 production.

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Simultaneously, I am working at CBC still.

Simultaneously, I just moved to the suburbs.

Simultaneously, I continue to contribute my help, where possible, to the Canadian Comedy Awards Communications Committee.

Simultaneously, I try maintaining a relationship with a bear.

Simultaneously, I am working with my Water Wings partner on bringing the show a bit more up to snuff to take to Winnipeg, where hopefully we will get a bit more support from the community in terms of seeing our little comedy show and enjoying it.  We met a few days ago to discuss some modifications to the scripts, an edit here, an added dance here.  Things we can do to tweek the show and to make it better.  Not, because we didn’t think it was good before, but because these things are in a constant state of evolution.  What worked in Montreal may not work in Winnipeg.   What worked in Toronto didn’t work all the time in Montreal.  Adjustments, tweeks and rehearsals are critical within the next few days in order to ensure the show is superb by the time we bring it to Winnipeg. I had my first over-the-phone interview in French, by the way.  That was pretty excitant!  (But not in the France French way.)

I leave for Winnipeg in a week.  Holy crap.

I’ll have to miss two Con 4 classes for this.

And use up all my CBC vacation time.

But this isn’t complaining.  This is what has to be done.