Some of you will remember the popular Disney film Mary Poppins. Released in 1964, the film starred the musically gifted Julie Andrews as the titular character. Perhaps one of the most memorable songs from the movie is "I Love to Laugh." This song is sung during a scene in which "Uncle Albert," "Bert" and the "Banks children" uncontrollably levitate towards the ceiling as a result of infectious laughter. The premise of the scene can be scene as a metaphor for the way laughter can "lighten" a mood and lift up one's spirit. Mary Poppins aside, many of us can relate to the wonderful, uplifting effect laughter has on us. And so it was with much joy and appreciation that Hi-Hope welcomed a guest comedian to our main campus this month; the incomparably funny Casey Whitaker.
Casey is the daughter of Hi-Hope Board of Directors Treasurer Yvonne Whitaker. She is a "seasoned stand-up, sketch comedy and improv performer based in Los Angeles." She trained and toured with Chicago's famed Second City improv comedy enterprise. She also wrote and directed a full length play as part of the Artist in Residency Series at Saint Mary's College. She just completed a stand up tour in Europe and spent 4 months at sea performing comedy on Norwegian Cruise Lines' Breakaway. She is also a freelance comedy writer for the card game Utter Nonsense. As luck would have it, Casey is spending the month of December in Atlanta between things and reached out to Hi-Hope to volunteer. Working with Volunteer Coordinator Nick Reynolds, they came up with a plan that involved four improv comedy classes and two performances with the individuals we support at Hi-Hope. The entire project was a HUGE hit.
Casey is open, welcoming, flexible and fearless making her the perfect volunteer. She immediately took lead on the project and guided groups ranging between 8 and 15 people through some truly hilarious improv comedy exercises. Our individuals were given the choice of being involved or not, but many opted in and we even had a few folks randomly join once they saw how much fun everyone was having. Not only did our individuals enjoy many a good, healthy laugh, but improv also helps build confidence and self esteem. Indeed, some individuals that normally shy away from the spotlight really shined during her sessions.
Casey's classes culminated in two separate performances. The performances were held in in the new Lifelong Learning Center in front of individuals, staff and visitors. The participants were brilliant and really had the audience going. These shows also brought out the best in our folks. For example, Natalie and Donna's silliness got them laughing so hard that it spread to the audience. Marty's impersonations of John Wayne and Jackie Gleason fit in perfectly and added color and hilarity to the troupe's antics. Howard's love of festive moments had him dancing across the "stage." Shane's deadpan delivery of funny comments was perfect.
All in all, this "experiment" with improv comedy was a huge success and just goes to show that the individuals we support at Hi-Hope are capable of so much. Their performances raised all our spirits and had our hearts and minds drifting towards the ceiling - just like Uncle Albert - as our worries melted away. The performers gave us the gift of laughter and we all "love to laugh." Finally, a huge THANK YOU goes out to Casey Whitaker for bringing the gifts of silliness and laughter to Hi-Hope this month.