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.
During the class, students participate in different exercises and games that get more difficult from week to week.
“Problem-solving helps connect neurons in our brain, so we know that’s important,” said Escott, but that’s not all. “There’s also a lot of laughter. Laughter and humor is a great mood changer. It’s really hard to be laughing and feeling sad at the same time.”
Through the wellness program, they are reaching people who aren’t often involved in the traditional theater. Escott says that someone with social anxiety probably isn’t comfortable getting on stage and reciting lines or singing a song, but with improv, they are able to create an experience for people to feel safe and confident.
Apart from offering classes for people with disabilities, they also provide sensory-friendly shows for people with special needs to enjoy performances at the theater.
For these individual performances they keep the lights half dim, the sound is turned down, movement during performances is not restricted. They only sell out half of the theater to ensure that people can move around and be comfortable. Price said this is important because often in public places, especially a theater, disruptions are looked down on and may make people feel shame.
Families of any special needs can rest assured that any outburst or disturbance will not be looked down on during a sensory-friendly performance.
“It makes us so happy that we’re able to offer classes and shows for everybody and includes a part of the community that I don’t think is being served in this way anywhere else,” Price said.
The Naples Players offers scholarships for the improv classes, and anyone can apply.