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 The Constant Struggle Featuring The Dandies’ Dale Wells

Our latest episode of The Constant Struggle podcast is up and this time, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dale Wells, improviser and co-founder of The Dandies & Holodeck Follies.

http://theconstantstruggle.podbean.com/e/e12-follow-your-passion-with-dale-wells/

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Dale speaks about the benefits and challenges producing live comedy shows in Toronto. We talk about the history of Star Trek improv in the city, about geek culture, and about his show; Holodeck Follies, kicking butt at this year’s FanExpo. Dale and Nick chat about what it’s like to be a Dad artist with a day job. We bring up his love of singing and the various ways in which improv can bring joy to your life.

What a positive guy!

***
With GREAT shout-outs to:
ANDIE WELLS
NATASHA BOOMER
ROB ARISS HILLS
THE 404s
GARY PEARSON
MARK LITTLE
KEN HALL
ALAN LEIGHTIZER
TODD VAN ALLEN (COMEDY ABOVE THE PUB)
GILLIAN ENGLISH &
TODD GRAHAM
***
 Be sure to follow The Dandies on Twitter @TorontoDandies & catch the next edition of #HolodeckFollies at Geek Hard Live!
#StruggleOn everybody!

Episode #10 with RYAN HUGHES is UP!

http://theconstantstruggle.podbean.com/e/e10-hurricast-with-ryan-hughes/

In this episode, Nick & Brie chat with actor, writer & improvisor Ryan Hughes about some of the struggles he’s currently facing in the pursuit of his art.

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Dis Ryan!

Ryan speaks of a few pros and cons of the day job, and what happens when it’s gone. He discusses issues of confidence and mental health. We also delve into a deep discussion about women in comedy and *~*GASP*~* even feminism!
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With GREAT shout-outs to:
CARLY HEFFERNAN
JESS BEAULIEU & NATALIE NORMAN (THE CRIMSON WAVE)
CATHERINE MCCORMICK
DANIELA SAIONI
ILLUSIONOID
***
Be sure to check Ryan out on Twitter @ryanfhughes & his improv troupe
Peggy Molson @peggymolson
Peggy Molson are competing in the Big City Improv Festival’s “TKO” tournament. Their semi-final set is at Comedy Bar on Tues. Oct. 13th @ 8:00 PM. Go check ’em out if you’re in Toronto.
#StruggleOn

Days Go By and Still I Think of…

…all the great stuff I learned last week!

All right, maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I’m a total dork, but I am sortof obsessed about learning about comedy. I probably don’t watch enough stand-up comedy specials on Netflix, I do read about it often enough, (currently on Bruce McCulloch’s “Let’s Start a Riot,”) and I suppose one of the big fears I deal with regularly is how much I should be “learning” vs. how much I should be “doing.”

One of the major problems I face with my own comedy is time. I have a Mon-Fri 9-5 job, which is great for paying back debt, but not so great for staying up late and going to multiple shows and partying until all hours of the night at the local open-mic/watering hole. (I do this extremely rarely.) I’ve tried to strike a balance by producing many of my own shows, thus giving myself ample play time, but also seeing many of the acts around town who inspire me and more importantly, who make me laugh.

Another thing I’ve just taken on, is the co-creation of the “Women in Comedy Toronto” group. It seems, so far, that people are really excited about it, and based on the first couple events we’ve had, it’s really evident that this is the kind of community group from which women in the Toronto comedy scene can really benefit. For example, last week Christina Walkinshaw came by to talk to us about her career in comedy thus far, her writing process, tales from the biz, and many other fascinating tidbits, and I tell you, it was inspiring!  I think anyone who was in attendance will tell you the same.

Also, on Wednesday, I attended the I ❤ Sketchfest event at the Steamwhistle Brewery, where they screened the premiere of Bruce McCulloch’s “Young Drunk Punk,” which was excellent, and I’m sorry I didn’t give it it’s own page, like I did with “Sunnyside“, I just ran out of time.

Which is my point. By this point, it’s Wednesday; I’ve helped a friend film her one woman-show, produced a 2+ hour talkback with one of Canada’s most amazingly hilarious female comics, supported my favourite Toronto comedy festival… and I haven’t had time yet to do any of my own writing or work.

Problem solved: Thursday, I booked, produced, and performed in a show put on by my improv duo, Exit, Pursued by a Bear. Friday, I produced and performed in Improv Game Show (and I won! Thanks again Maddox! [as if he’s actually reading this!])

And alas, the weekend called for fun family celebrations in Niagara, which are lovely, but don’t really allow for much writing time. (Nor should they. Family time is important, dangit!)

So, I guess what I’m trying to say, is that it would be nice to have a little balance. Maybe last week was just crazy, or maybe I’m over-committing to stuff. Either way, I’d love to know what your solutions are to feeling like you can never get fully on top of the multiple things you’re trying to accomplish?

My brother recommended I read Chris Hardwick’s “The Nerdist Way,” and it already seems like a great process for helping people achieve their goals. But I’m already looking at it like “I don’t have TIME to create a fancy CHART with all my WANTS AND DESIRES on it, and make it pretty with pictures?!!?”

And again, so much is the nature of an anxious person.  Sometimes we have so much to do, and we can’t just… take… a … breath. It’s always go go go. Sometimes what we need is to slow down, and only in those times can we think clearly and make a plan towards actually accomplishing our goals. Like finishing this damn spec script I’ve been working on for MONTHS. (The outline is now finished. Thank you.)

Sometimes it’s about balancing a crazy week with a following week of cuddling up with your computer at home with a nice (several) cup(s) of coffee in a cozy hoodie.

That’s where I’m at this week.  Until I’m not.

 

Two Years of Confessions

Two Years of fun. Pessimistic, passive aggressive fun.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Clown College Confessions!

There are two things I would have liked to have ready to post on this, the second anniversary of my little blog:

  • The First:  to have had enough money to finally convert it to its own domain name and;
  • The Second:  to have been able to post photos from Fresh Meat and talked about the upcoming Cream of Comedy show.

But as it turns out, I’m still broke and I didn’t make it onto Cream of Comedy

SO…

…this adorable teddy bear will have to suffice, OK?   ALRIGHT?!?!?!  What’s wrong?  A cute teddy bear NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YA?  Well we’ll see about THAT!!!!

Somebody get me some chocolate cake.

_____

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