For Bart Sumner, October 9th turned out to be a double-edged sword. Not only was it the inaugural meeting of his recent labor of love called Healing Improv, a potential non-profit for grieving individuals, it was also the fourth anniversary of the death of his 10 year old son, David. Sumner created Healing Improv to help himself and others learn how to channel grieving energy into healing fun by doing improvisational comedy. Perhaps the aligning of the dates were not a coincidence after all. .
“Our goal is not to forget those we lost; our goal is to learn to move on and still find joy in life,” explains Sumner. “It’s been a long journey up to this point.”
In addition to Sumner, 14 other people came to the session; more than he expected. The workshop started out quietly. Attendees were apprehensive, yet open-minded, and treated their fellow patrons warmly. Sumner began the evening by simply asking the group: “So, why are we all here tonight?”
For the next 45 minutes, individuals bared their souls talking about their spouses, children, parents, and dearest friends who they had lost. As the group of strangers poured out their pent-up grief,a heaviness settled in the room. But just when the timing was right, Sumner smartly redirected the morose ice with the perky suggestion of, “Let’s have some fun, now!”
What pursued was the group’s engagement in five improvisational games, starting with Superhero Circle. It went like this: First, players presented the name of their unlikely super-powered alter-ego, such as, The Lone Ranger, Barbra Streisand, Burger-Eating Guy, and The Jelly! Next, attendees were encouraged to memorize everyone else’s super-names and modify it into a game of Hot Potato, tossing names and gestures back and forth to one another at a ridiculous pace. Soon, much needed laughter and smiles filled the room and the atmosphere began to lighten up.
The second game played was called “One Word FairyTale,” with participants retelling the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” one word per person at a time. As the rest of the games were explained and played out, so did the laughter and the smiles. Sumner couldn’t have been more pleased with how the first session turned out. Joy was experienced and shared out loud. It was one mission accomplished for Sumner.
In the meantime, he awaits his second mission to be accomplished: getting Healing Improv qualified by the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit charity. If approved, all donations to this cause would be considered tax-deductible. So far Sumner has raised over $6600 to get the program started. The next session of Healing Improv will be Tuesday, December, 17 at 7 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater.