Arts and Entertainment

Hardy-har-har: Participants are in stitches at the Liberation Laughter class | Kitsap Week

Sheila Curwen, Catherine Exton and Shada Ross share a laugh while acting as one brain in the game “genius.” In the game, the brain answers a question, one word at a time.   - Erin Jennings
Sheila Curwen, Catherine Exton and Shada Ross share a laugh while acting as one brain in the game “genius.” In the game, the brain answers a question, one word at a time.
— image credit: Erin Jennings

Walking by the commons room at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center on a Friday morning, you may overhear “Zig. Zag. Zog.” Or gibberish words such as “Schmolzfrazel.”

You’ll also hear laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

So what is going on?

Welcome to Liberation Laughter, a free class taught by Nancy Lewars.

“I was doing a lot of volunteering and was finding that some of it wasn't any fun at all,” said Lewars, a retired English teacher. “So I thought, ‘This is silly. What do I really like to do?’ And the answer was to laugh and to make others laugh.”

She knew she didn’t want to perform with a professional improv group; rather, she wanted to empower others to think on their feet. And to have fun.

It’s been one year since she started her class and she now has a faithful following. At a recent session, 16 people gathered around to laugh.

“The class is a lot of fun and helps you to be more inventive,” said class regular Barbara Fay. “It also helps you lose your shyness.”

Lewars opened up the class by reminding the attendees that Liberation Laughter is not an improv class.  The word “improv” can often spook people, she said.

“We are not here to become professionals, we are here for a good time and to get our blood going,”

Lewars said.

Studies have shown that the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine,” has some truth to it. According to Webmd.com, laughing helps reduce stress hormones, enhance the immune system, stabilize blood pressure and speed-up blood circulation.

Laughter also helps keep your world in balance, Lewars said. “It gives us perspective and reminds us to not take ourselves so seriously,” she said.

Along with the benefit of laughing, the class instills a tremendous sense of support.

“This class is a safe haven,” Lewars said. “I can't emphasize that enough. Where else can you go, where the goal is to support you and make you look even better than you thought you were? That's the whole objective, to take what you say and add to it.”

This is accomplished through team exercises where the dialogue moves back and forth. Take for instance the game of gibberish. The first person blurts out a gibberish word. The second person creates a definition for the word. And the third uses the word in a sentence. The result is a humorous interaction with no right or wrong answer.

Another class favorite is the game “genius.” In it three people act as one brain. An audience member suggests a topic such as “umbrellas.” Another person asks a question regarding the topic, such as “On a windy day, how do you keep an umbrella from flipping inside out?” Then three-person brain answers the question. The trick is, each person can only say one word at a time.  This is a collaborative exercise and uses on-the-spot thinking. You have to work with what your teammates say in hopes of constructing a coherent answer.

Lewars admits this class isn’t for everyone. She’s had people tell her, “Thank you very much, but I’m not coming back.” But others have told her the class has done a world of good for their mental health.

Has Lewars always been a life-of-the-party person? Surprisingly, her answer is no. Up until recently, Lewars regarded herself as reserved.

“Obviously this part of me was inside of me somewhere. I just hadn’t found the words or the means to express it,” she said.

The class has become her highlight of the week. She leaves the class feeling jazzed and alive.

“The class answers our human need for acceptance and support. And the frosting on the cake is that it’s fun,” she said. “What can’t you love about that?”

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Class info: Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Senior Center, 370 Brien Drive, Bainbridge Island. Space is limited and registration is required. Register at the Senior Center.

 

 

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