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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#BrieCIF2015

I did it! I performed AND participated in this year’s Big City Improv Festival! Huzzah. My first time performing in the festival! Youpidyday!

My own. My precious. (Also, that's not my thumb)

My own. My precious. (Also, that’s not my thumb)

My first performance in #BCIF2015 were interesting an unexpected. Such, I suppose, is the nature of the art we practice. I was asked by my former teacher Robin Duke to perform in a show with other Humber alumni. I said yes, because Robin Duke. It was a while before I realized this show was actually part of #BCIF. It seems that because Humber is a sponsor, this is the show they contributed to the fest. And I got to be part of it. Yay.

In all honesty, I really didn’t know how to feel about it. I remember improv not to be one of the main focuses of the Humber comedy program. In fact, here’s what I remember about improv class at Humber:

  1. Alan Guttman continually blowing my mind in class, dropping his early Second City and Johnstonenian wisdom and;
  2. Adam Cawley running a longform workshop, which likely convinced me to sign up for Second City classes.

The students interested in performing stand-up seemed to outweigh those interested in improv in number and in willingness-to-give-it-a-try-ingness. All I’m saying is, it’s hard for someone who’s hiding behind a microphone to completely throw themselves into improv; it’s a art that requires a lot of letting go. I think one thing that makes stand-up do their thing, is an inability to let go; and also, in fact, a desire to to instead repeat the thing most people would let go over and over again in exchange for the laughter of strangers. Don’t get me wrong, I love that laughter, but I think I like spontaneity and discovery a wee bit more.

That being said, I was incredibly pleased and delighted to find out that improv at Humber is stronger than ever. Our show featured short form games. The performers were quick, they played fun characters and they were SMART. I got to play a super fun scene with the wonderful Ashley Comeau who was generous enough to give me a gift that allowed me to have SO MUCH FUN. All she had to say was “you looooooooove her” to cool guy Malik Powell and the game was afoot.

Following that set, I ran over to a friend’s house for, get this: her birthday, pizza, carrot cake, the Blue Jays victory, a tasty butter tart & a Liberal majority in Parliament. I excused myself and ran down to Bad Dog where I had my SECOND EVER SHOW in BCIF. Two shows in one night! I waited years for one show, period. This is like a woman who can’t get pregnant, so she overdoses on fertility meds and ends up getting quints…OR so is my understanding of reproductive medications.

So, an 11pm BCIF edition of Improv Game Show was show #2. On a Monday. The same day the Blue Jays were playing. And everyone was watching a pretty historic election. And despite all of this, the show was great! The energy was fantastic. Oliver Georgiou hosted and rocked the night! Our tech Scott, who I just met for the first time that night was freaking hilarious. ALL the improvisers were GREAT and the games were so much fun. We play this game all the time, and yet this edition felt particularly special.

The following day, my 1950s-inspired babefest Fifty Shades of 50 performed a magical set in the cabaret space. It was pretty wacky, there was a lot of talk about fart-smells, and we mentioned a character named “Little Noah No-Arms”. So…you know… improv gold! I love this format & performing with these women so much.

Here’s a shot my camera took of us mid-action:12042790_10101301938113596_5355067159631151847_n

There were many other performers and performances at this year’s festival filled with hilarity and greatness. But that’s not what this post is about. This is a different post.

In this post, I did it! I performed AND participated in this year’s Big City Improv Festival! Huzzah. My first time performing in the festival! Youpidyday!

 

 

Naomi Snieckus & Alastair Forbes To Perform at next GWCI?

I’m so stoked to announce that this Saturday’s show features none other than Second City Main Stage alumni: Naomi Snieckus and Alastair Forbes. And if YOU attend, YOU might get to play with them!

Get to know more about these two phenomenal improvisers/people and read on:

*****

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Naomi Snieckus is an actor, writer, improviser, voice over artist, and director. She studied at University of Waterloo and then Ryerson Theatre School before moving to Vancouver for five years. An alumnus of the world renowned Second City in Toronto she wrote and performed in 5 shows and met her funny man Matt Baram. She is a founding member (along with Matt Baram) of five time Canadian Comedy Award winning The National Theatre of the World and performs and produces: Impromptu Splendor, The Carnegie Hall Show and The Script Tease Project. The National Theatre of The World is a company in residence at The Young Centre For The Performing Arts in Toronto. They have traveled internationally to Berlin, Israel, Amsterdam, England, New York, South Carolina, Chicago, Los Angeles as well as throughout Canada. Naomi won the Canadian Comedy Award for best female improviser in 2010, as well as best female in a TV Series (Mr.D) and was nominated for an Actra Award in 2013 for her work in Mr.D.

STAGELA_STAGEComedypx468Alastair Forbes is a Second City Mainstage Alumni, Dora Award nominee and two-time nominee for the Canadian Comedy Awards Best Male Improvisor. You may have seen him on your TV (Insecurity and The Ron James Show, CBC; The Bridge, CTV;Breakout Kings, A&E; That’s so Weird, YTV) on your big screen (My Ex Ex) on your stage near you (Theatre by the Bay, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Centaur) or have seen his voice on your radio (Go!, CBC Radio One). He has written for YTV’s That’s So Weird and is a story editor on a CTV development project Matt and Jeff. Oh, and yes, he’s probably that guy from that commercial you saw. You can catch him almost every week performing at the Comedy Bar or with his critically acclaimed improv troupe Bonspiel!

For more information, check out:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1510937449152943/?fref=ts

I don’t normally like wrestling…

I was feeling a bit frustrated the past couple days because I really wanted to check out the opening of the new Second City main stage show, We Can Be Heroes, but tickets were sold out and short from showing up and sneaking in, I couldn’t really afford to go anyway. I attended one opening when I worked there and it was such a great atmosphere among the crowd, which was filled with Second City alumni and friends of the community just buzzing over the accomplishment and excitement of putting on a brand new show.

So, I wondered what I could do that would be comedy-productive, since checking out the new revue wasn’t happenin’.  I decided trying to get on at Yuk Yuk’s that evening would be that thing.  It feels like it’s been a century since I last performed stand-up comedy.

I signed up for Humber night and was put on the stand-by list.  I pretty much swam to the club in yesterday’s crazy downpour and enough people hadn’t shown up that I was given a set in the middle of the line-up.  The sent went really well.  The club wasn’t packed, but the crowd was so into it, they were laughing heartily.  Ahhh… music to my ears!  Granted, I was a little out of practise, but – I was still pleased with how it turned out.  It was also great to see some Humber folks, past and present still going hard at working on their craft.

When I got off stage, I checked my watch and realized there was still time to make it to the Second City Training Centre Tuesday night improv drop-in that I normally don’t drop-in on on Tuesday nights because I typically have class.  And after 8+ hours of work and 3 hours of improv, I’m normally pretty pooped.  Anyway, I went – attended, participated as “The Mighty Cheese” (which is now my wrestling name) and had a fun time playing some silly improv games in what is admittedly far to close to an actual WWE wrestling format for my comfort.  But we gotta break out of those comfort zones, n’est-ce pas?  I played a game working on emotional levels, and another sortof confusing larger group scene which was… shall we say… interesting?

What a fun and productive day!  New jokes were told, new improvisers were met, new underwear were worn (I wish – I’m broke!)

Next on the agenda:  I’m getting new head shots!   Sidenote:  I’ve been meaning to get this done for MONTHS!   (It’s FINALLY gonna happen!!)

This is the look I'm aiming for!

This is the look I’m aiming for!

My Online Presence Renewed

Recently, a friend and colleague of mine told me “You need to have more of an online presence,” which I took as a sign that I haven’t posted anything here on CCC, so it’s time to get back to it. No more excuses or nonsense.  It’s not like I’ve been all that busy or anything…

Well…

Part of the reason my posts have been dwindling is because I’m co-managing another website lately for my sketch duo Lake Erie.  We’ve been working tirelessly at creating content for our upcoming Fringe show and in an effort to promote it, we put this little website together:

http://lakeeriecomedy.wordpress.com/

So far the show is coming along nicely, and we had our first shot at performing some of its material tonight at the JokeBox Live Comedy Lounge.  We spent all day yesterday preparing for the set and filming what will soon be our first promo short for the Fringe show.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I may or may not have been driving around in a Mustang convertible for the shoot.

With all the Lake Erie stuff coming together, it’s hard to believe I’ve also just finished stage 2 of the 6-part process that is the Second City Conservatory program.  Last Wednesday my class had our final Level 2 show, and we finished with some fun improv and our first shot at performing some scenes written a la Second City style/process.  Our next term starts in a few weeks, and we’ll be focusing mainly on archival material, which is always fun.  I remember back from the Archival Show I did at Humber that performing other people’s stuff can be pretty darn fun.  Heh.  Colonel Angus

I’ve also added to my responsibilities belonging to the Communications Committee for the Canadian Comedy Awards.  The festival is going to be in Ottawa this year, so well in advance, I’m warning my remaining Ottawa peeps that it is very important we get together and get drunk while watching some hilarious shit that weekend in October.

No rest for the wicked, they say.  Which I’ve never really understood.  Does that mean people who are busy are witches?  Probably.  I’d better get back to my cauldron folks, but stay tuned, I’m going to try harder to update this puppy more frequently as we approach our Fringe show dates and the anxieties increase!

Huzzah!

Oh, and in honour of our first performance as Lake Erie tonight, world, I want you to remember a simpler time when this was relevant:

 

Luba’s Accordion

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve been back from the Ottawa/Montreal leg of our Comedy Before the Frost tour and I still haven’t had the time to post any of the photos or videos.  But I’m working on it.  I promise.

… I’ve been busy!

2012 Cream of Comedy

I had my first Level D class at the Second City Training Centre this past Monday (Rob Baker‘s my teacher – So excited! Uh… the comedian, not the dude from The Tragically Hip – although that would also be cool.) Afterwards, I huddled and dodged the hurricane over to the Main Stage to check out the last little bit of the 2012 Cream of Comedy show, where those 5 performers who were selected from Fresh Meat got to battle it out one last time in hopes of winning the Tim Sims Engouragement Fund  Finally, Christi Olson was declared victor and was awarded  $5k & a scholarship to the Training Centre.  Good on her.  She’s hilarious and totally deserves it.  Also, I hear she needs money to buy meds, so… good.  Comedy’s literally keeping this girl alive.

Kudos to the producer Deanna Palazzo for putting for the hard work she put into Fresh Meat and CoC this year.  They were both really fantastic performances, which ran smoothly, professionally and hilariously, just as planned.

I don’t know why, but because I didn’t know Tim Sims, I derived great pleasure out of recognizing him from the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials where he played Rory Tate, the scientist tracking mysterious peanut butter and chocolaty crop circles.  I REMEMBER those! I guess it makes me feel better because I can acknowledge that though I never got to see Tim perform live, some element of his performance has been ingrained in my memory – so I feel better about being nominated to be in a competition for award in his name.  Does that make sense? I don’t care.  It does to me.

You remember this too, right?

IT DOES TO ME!

Anyway, C0C was hosted by Kristeen von Hagen, who is hilarious.  And,  having heard she was in town, the wonderful Jess Beaulieu snagged her up to headline her and Laura Bailey‘s popular CHICKA-BOOM show, on which I got to perform with some other fun sketch and improv comedians and none other than Royal Canadian Air Farce veteran, Luba Goy.

The Canadian Ukrainian Princess

“What? Brie, that’s amazing!”

I know.  You don’t have to tell me that.  I feel it too.

She performed a great little bit of stand-up and included some of the fan favorites, including Kim Campbell & Donald Duck.  After the show, Luba kept us out too late for a Sunday, telling the hosts they need to hurry up, get married and have babies (not with each other…) before their parts dry up.  She then picked up what is probably the Free Times Café owner’s family heirloom, a sweet old accordion, without permission and went to town on it – telling us tales of her own one-of-a-kind childhood accordion, which her friend traded in sans permission.  Tragedy, right?

Who could say anything though? She’s Ukrainian Canada’s sweetheart!

Also, Luba tells me I’m no longer allowed to drink sweet white wine, so… I have to settle for Pinot Grigio these days.

YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT LUBA SAYS!!!!  BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN OTHERWISE.

Luba Goy – more terrifying than Halloween.