Act­ing in their best in­ter­ests

Sec­ond City teach­ing im­prov to help cope with anx­i­ety, autism

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

Sec­ond City teach­ing im­prov to help cope with anx­i­ety, autism.

A decade ago, Cameron Algie couldn't imag­ine get­ting up on a stage in front of an au­di­ence, let alone per­form­ing im­prov com­edy for one.

Gripped by anx­i­ety, he scoffed when his ther­a­pist sug­gested he was nat­u­rally funny and might do well in an im­prov class at Sec­ond City Toronto.

“It seemed like the scari­est thing to do,”' re­calls the Cam­bridge, Ont., na­tive.

“Get­ting through the door that first day, the first class, is the scari­est thing. Anx­i­ety is all about an­tic­i­pa­tion and imag­in­ing all th­ese scary things, but once I was there in the class, it really was scary but fun.”

Algie went on to com­plete all five stages of the im­prov classes there and then stud­ied at the con­ser­va­tory level.

Now he teaches Im­prov for Anx­i­ety or Pub­lic Speak­ing at the Sec­ond City Train­ing Cen­tre in Toronto.

“I think play is the key, num­ber one part of it so it doesn't feel like ther­apy or work,” he says.

“Get­ting them play­ing - and then tackle is­sues like be­ing in the mo­ment and get in touch with your body, con­nect with other peo­ple, make mis­takes, al­low your­self to not be per­fect and be OK with not be­ing per­fect.”

Group work and build­ing so­cial skills are also a fo­cus of the cen­tre's new class, im­prov for teens on the autism spec­trum, which be­gins Jan. 9.

In­struc­tor Cassie Moes, who pitched the idea for the class, learned how to work with peo­ple with spe­cial needs as a mid­dle-school teacher. She also had ex­pe­ri­ence teach­ing im­prov ex­er­cises for peo­ple with spe­cial needs and did respite care at Reach Child and Youth De­vel­op­ment So­ci­ety in Delta, B.C.

“I find a lot of the times ... as kids get older - kids who are on the spec­trum - there's not a lot of pro­gram­ming and re­sources that's of good qual­ity for them to ex­plore dif­fer­ent things,” says the Van­cou­ver na­tive.

“So I really wanted to of­fer a pro­gram where not only will they get the so­cial el­e­ment that im­prov really pro­vides but they would also just get to learn some skills which they can ap­ply in their day-to-day life.”

Algie says the big­gest ob­sta­cle for stu­dents in the anx­i­ety class is self-judg­ment.

“When you stand in front of an au­di­ence, the au­di­ence is never judg­ing you as harshly as you're judg­ing you,” says Algie.

“If you make a lit­tle mis­take on­stage, the au­di­ence prob­a­bly doesn't no­tice or care or think of it as a mis­take. They prob­a­bly laughed, found it funny.”

Moes, who has also taught the class, says they tell stu­dents not to try to be funny.

“I al­ways try to say, who you are and what you have and what you bring in­her­ently is enough,” she says.

“You are pro­tected by the

“When you stand in front of an au­di­ence, the au­di­ence is never judg­ing you as harshly as you're judg­ing you. If you make a lit­tle mis­take on­stage, the au­di­ence prob­a­bly doesn't no­tice or care or think of it as a mis­take. They prob­a­bly laughed, found it funny.”

frame­work of the game. The more you let your­self go, those are the peo­ple who have the most suc­cess, the peo­ple with no fil­ter.”

Algie and Moes say some anx­i­ety alumni have gone on to per­form in front of hun­dreds and even formed their own troupes.

“For a lot of peo­ple, pub­lic speak­ing is worse than death,” says Moes.

“So they're like, 'If I can stand on this stage and per­form in front of 200 peo­ple, what else can't I do in my life?”'

The Im­prov for Teens on the Spec­trum classes are for “high-func­tion­ing in­de­pen­dent teens” ages 13 to 19.

Moes says she plans to do group ex­er­cises to help stu­dents feel safe, pick up on emo­tional cues and “go out­side of them­selves.”

“Also just to have fun and have a reg­u­lar space, where it's just like, 'Hey, there are all th­ese peo­ple on the same page as me, let's just be friends and have fun with each other in this en­vi­ron­ment that's less schooled and less wor­ried about fix­ing what's wrong with you.”'

Ac­tor Cameron Algie

CP PHO­TOS

Im­prov com­edy in­struc­tor Cassie Moes shown in a hand­out photo. Group work and build­ing so­cial skills are a fo­cus of the Sec­ond City Train­ing Cen­tre's new class, im­prov for teens on the autism spec­trum, which be­gins Jan. 9.

Ac­tor Cameron Algie is shown in a hand­out photo. A decade ago, Algie couldn't imag­ine get­ting up on a stage in front of an au­di­ence, let alone per­form­ing im­prov com­edy for one. Gripped by anx­i­ety, he scoffed when his ther­a­pist sug­gested he was nat­u­rally funny and might do well in an im­prov class at Sec­ond City Toronto.

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