Improvisational theater games for people with Parkinson’s and Care Partners

Improvisational Theatre Games for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their care partners is not just fun but therapeutic.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a movement disorder that affects up to 1 million people in the US and doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases each year. Improvisational Theater Games, based on the work of Viola Spolin, are being used clinically all over the world. Improv classes are being offered for stress management, Autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and other neuromuscular diseases.

With Parkinson’s disease, there are accompanying problems with facial rigidity (or masking), gait impairment characterized by a stuttering gait as well as anxiety and depression. Some of the Improvisational exercises we use are directly related to these issues.

We do an exercise called “Show, don’t tell, your feelings” where students have to use facial muscles to portray a feeling. This exercise is important as students can recognize the need to use their muscles to indicate their emotions. Parkinson’s Disease can be isolating not only for the individual with PD but for the family as well. In these eight -week classes, participants work with partners and in small groups to play a variety of improv exercises each week, while learning about improvisational theatre principles. In these lively classes, participants get a chance to express themselves non-verbally through movement and music activities. To aid in cognition and memory skills, improvisational games present fun challenges to solve.

There is growing research on the therapeutic benefits of Improvisational Theatre Games for people with PD. The neurology department of Northwestern University has partnered with Second City since 2015 researching the benefits of teaching improv to people with PD and their caregivers_. Their research showed that improvisational theatre games help to cultivate focus, improve communication, and promote well- being. Our groups have 8-10 participants. We begin by explaining Acceptance and “Yes, and…. “ We also focus on the concept that there are no mistakes, only gifts. Acceptance is an important concept as people with PD have difficulty accepting their disease. The idea that they don’t have to like it but rather accept the reality can be a way to help with the denial that often accompanies this disorder. This holds true for the care partners as they too are often in denial. Allowing time for games, no one is pressured to speak quickly and others don’t try to “interpret” is also important especially for care partners as they become used to “doing” everything for their partner and often end up controlling and, in some cases, demeaning their partner. I use a brief mindfulness exercise in all classes as it gives them time to slow down and calm their thoughts.

Some of the games I use that are very effective and easy to learn are:

  1. Everybody Go
  2. Pass the Sound
  3. Show don’t tell (a feeling)
  4. Mirror
  5. Story Spine 
  6. Zip Zap Zop
  7. Three changes
  8. Gibberish vocal warm-ups
  9. Gibberish Translator

Even if folks are confined to wheelchairs we can make accommodations. I’ve seen wonderful improvements in many of my students and am honored to work with these brilliant, genius improvisers.

Margot Escott, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Naples for 34 years and has been involved with Naples Parkinson Association of South Florida for over 20 years. She has received improv training from Gary Schwartz, Craig Price, Jimmy Carrane and Stephanie Anderson. She has taught and performed improv comedy including mental health practitioners and was recently a featured speaker in Chicago at the “First Annual Yes, and Mental Health Conference” in 2017. Her podcast, “Improv Interviews” is at https://margotescott.com/podcast/


[1] Laughter is the best medicine: The Second City improvisation as an intervention for Parkinson’s disease (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353802016304321

Northwestern Medical partners with Second City for Improv for Parkinson’s

http://parkinson.org/blog/research/comedy-clinical-study

Improv as Therapy

Gulfshore Life Magazine
Melanie Pefinis
February 2019 (Pages 63-64)

The Naples Players put on a great show, as we theatergoers know. But maybe not all of us know that the 65-year-old institution seeks to educate our community as well as entertain it. There are the KidzAct youth program, internship opportunities, diverse creative workshop offerings for adults–and inclusive classes for people with additional needs, including improv for individuals with autism and those with social anxiety.

Margot Escott was familiar with the mission, so when she approached the players about bringing her own improv classes to the company, she knew the techniques she used with Parkinson’s patients would fit right in.

Continue reading “Improv as Therapy”

Theater Programs for People with Disabilities

Theater Programs for People with Disabilities
Hello SWFL by Antoniette Meyer
October 9, 2018

The Naples Players provides a wellness program that helps people with disabilities like anxiety, autism, and Parkinson’s. The program teaches people improv skills that can translate into their day to day lives. “One of the beautiful things about improv is this rule of acceptance. We have to accept what our partners give us on stage. We have to be able to work together,” said Naples Players’ Education Director, Craig Price. In the Improv for Anxiety class, they have a rule that there are no mistakes. By creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere, it helps students enjoy the class without the fear of being judged. “Most of us with anxiety have the fear of ‘Did I say the wrong thing?’ ‘Will they accept me?’ ‘Did I do it right?’ There’s a lot of perfectionism with anxiety,” said Margot Escott the Theater Therapy Instructor.

Click to view a list of current classes

Click here to read more and view Hello SWFL’s video.

Learn to ad-lib your way through anxiety

Learn to ad-lib your way through anxiety
Florida Weekly
September 13, 2018

“Improv for Anxiety,” a six-week class in expressive therapy offered by licensed clinical social worker Margot Escott, starts Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Sugden Community Theatre in Naples.

Up to 20 percent of adults in America suffer from anxiety, making it one of the most common psychiatric complaints today. Using improvisational theater techniques to relieve anxiety is a relatively new option to talk therapy. It started several years ago at Second City in Chicago and is now blossoming in theaters around the country. Offered in a fun, supportive environment, this new approach to alleviating social anxiety, phobias and ordinary forms of shyness requires no prior improv or theater experience.

Click to view a list of current classes

Click here to read more at Florida Weekly

Improv Camp helps ADHD, autistic children

Improv Camp helps ADHD, autistic children
by Margot Escott for Naples Daily News
June, 2018

Summertime has many offerings for children’s camps. But the Naples Players Wellness Program offers a unique class for children who are on the autism spectrum (ASD), have ADHD and sensory processing issues.

Craig Price, Naples Players Education Director, is the instructor of the Acting & Improv summer camp and provides a unique experience for these children. The fundamentals of improv comedy help build self-confidence and improve communication skills, challenges for those with autism. Click here to read more in Naples Daily News.

Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone

Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone
By Harriet Howard Heithaus Naples Daily News – November, 2017

Read about how improvisational theatre can benefit those with Parkinson’s and their care partners.

This improvisational theater class won’t teach pratfalls or stage entrances. But the Parkinson’s disease patients who are learning elements of that art with therapist Margot Escott can count on broad smiles and hearty laughter.

Click here to view a list of current classes

Continue reading “Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone”

TIPS ON RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA

Although it has been 2 months since Hurricane Irma devastated Collier County, many people are still feeling the effects of this traumatic event. Today I was with some friends who continue to suffer daily due to Irma. Some are homeless for an indefinite amount of time, some are seeking welfare and Food Stamps (something they never thought would happen in their lives), and spending their days on the phone with government agencies, insurance companies, etc. A traumatic event is a life-threatening occurrence and post-trauma stress is a normal response to an abnormal event, such as Irma. Living through a trauma affects the body, mind, and spirit. Continue reading “TIPS ON RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA”

PARKINSON’S & ME

In 1997 my father, Ivan Escott, Jr. was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a lucky coincidence that this was the year that the Parkinson Association of South Florida (PASFI) was founded. I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting with the founding members of PASFI before they were incorporated so knew about their mission. A few weeks after that, my dad received his PD diagnosis. How fortunate we were to know there was a place where he could be involved, receive education and support. Continue reading “PARKINSON’S & ME”

Play Isn’t Just for Kids-Improv for people with Parkinson’s Disease

You don’t have to want to be a performer on stage to learn improv games! We can play them just for the fun of it. There is growing research on the therapeutic benefits of Improvisational Theatre Games for people with PD. The Neurology Department of Northwestern University has partnered with Second City since 2015 researching the benefits of teaching improv to people with PD and their caregivers. Their research showed that improvisational theatre games help to cultivate focus, improve communication, and promote well- being. Continue reading “Play Isn’t Just for Kids-Improv for people with Parkinson’s Disease”