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Laughing Allowed:
A How-to Guide for Making a Physical Comedy Show to Build Neighbourhood Resilience.
Will Weigler, Rob Wipond, and Michelle Colussi. Published by  Building Resilient Neighbourhoods, 2016

To read the book online, download the PDF, and watch the videos from our show, click here.

In the fall of 2014, I collaborated with Rob Wipond and Michelle Colussi, two members of an organization in Victoria called Building Resilient Neighbourhoods, on a project we called Laughing Allowed. We were looking for a fresh way of understanding the tension between the ideal of achieving a strong and socially cohesive neighbourhood, and the sometimes messy reality. We extended an invitation for people in the Victoria West neighbourhood to come take part in six free Saturday workshops on how to do physical comedy in exchange for their first-hand knowledge of why people are sometimes reluctant to get involved in neighbourhood activities. Over a dozen men and women who shared both an interest in their neighbourhood and a quirky sense of humour joined the project to turn their experiences of the ups and downs of neighbourhood leadership, activism and volunteering into physical comedy sketches. They developed the entire show together and performed it for the rest of the neighbourhood at the end of the workshop series.

Rob, Michelle, and I asked participants for their insights on what people in a community want or hope for and what gets in the way. By asking questions like these we were able to generate answers that would be good source material for a mode of physical comedy called “clown in trouble.” When a clown tries hard to achieve something while being thwarted by an obstacle, that’s a “clown in trouble.”

The participants began by listing various barriers to community involvement and then simultaneously, as they were learning some techniques and vocabulary of physical comedy, they met in small groups to develop routines showing the comedy equivalent of each of the various answers they’d given to the questions we’d asked. We reconvened to share our work in progress. That’s where the collaborative research kicked in. As the group looked at each comedy routine, they asked themselves, “Does it really peg the nature of why people shy away from getting involved?  Have the performers got it close, but not quite right on the mark? What do we need to tweak in order to make the sketch more accurately reflect what we’ve seen in our own experiences and in our neighbourhoods?” Together we made adjustments, and the closer each sketch got to sincerely reflecting what they felt actually happens, the funnier it became. Naming the different barriers enabled participants, and ultimately the audience at the show, to identify opportunities for building resilience to overcome those barriers.

The project offered us powerful evidence that the arts can be used effectively to engage people who don’t typically become involved in community activism, and can offer new ways of exploring, discussing and resolving shared challenges. The post-performance conversation had nearly as much shared laughter and applause as the show itself, with people eager to talk about what resonated most for them personally in the different scenes.  Looking at the problems in light-hearted ways led to different kinds of conversations about how to bring about changes.

Following the project, Rob and Michelle and I wrote this guidebook on how to facilitate the workshops we developed for using physical comedy as a collaborative research method to promote resilience. Building Resilient Neighbourhoods defines resilience as our ability to respond and adapt to change (to take action) in ways that are proactive, that build local capacity, and that ensure essential needs are met. We believe that resilience is becoming an increasingly important capacity for every neighbourhood and community in the face of growing economic, social and ecological challenges.