Meet the Woman Bettering the Lives of Local Seniors with Laughter

This Saturday May 27th, the Improv for Seniors Workshop will take place, and no one is more excited than the workshop’s founder and teacher Elizabeth Byland, an extremely talented local and nationwide actor and comedian. Over a 90 minute class, Byland teaches students the fundamentals of improvisation through fun and energizing games.

The purpose of the Improv for Seniors Workshop is to transform and empower the lives of the senior members in our growing community by providing a safe atmosphere that encourages them to create, play, laugh, connect, let loose, and try something new while practicing mental stimulation and flexibility, utilizing the techniques and ensemble play of improv. Although other theatres and training centers like Second City have offered classes like this before, Elizabeth is currently the only person in the region that offers this kind of workshop specifically to the senior demographic in our community.

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Goal of Improv for Seniors

  • To bridge the generational gap and give those of this age demographic a place to create and explore like a kid again.
  • Expose this generation to the cognitive benefits of improv.
  • Provide a new educational and artistic experience to the Senior members of our community.
  • Create and help establish new connections and friends.
  • Help build and sustain audience members of all ages for Queen City Improv and the improv community in our ever evolving city of Charlotte.
  • Reinvigorate the mind and body, while enhancing both verbal and nonverbal communicational skills
  • Provide performance opportunities for those senior members who are ready to jump off the cliff!

The beginning

Elizabeth Byland’s passion for working to better the lives of senior members in the community grew from her own personal experiences that took place closer to home. Byland’s dad had several health issues and his cognitive functioning was decreasing year by year. During the last few years of his life Elizabeth’s father lived in a nursing home, where she would visit him, often with feelings of hopelessness.

“I did the only thing I knew how: tried to be funny.  I would go and sit with him and tell him about this funny thing that happened in the grocery store, or bring up funny memories from way back when.  Every now and again, I’d look over, his eyes wide open, and he’d be smiling from ear to ear!  And if I was really lucky, I might even hear him laugh!  So, I started telling him more funny stories and on the very special occasion that he was having a “good day” he might just tell me a funny story.  While I felt so helpless during those last few years of his life, there was a new connection that I was forming with him through comedy that gave me purpose and even allowed me to accept the situation. “

Five years ago Elizabeth’s father passed away. She remembers reflecting on the passing of her father and asking herself, “Who will I tell these funny stories to now? Who will I go to visit?”

Speaking with her mother shortly after her father passed, Elizabeth asked, “Mom, if you could go back and do anything different with your life what would you do?”

Her mother responded with an answer she wasn’t ready for, “I just wish I would have learned and tried more things… I feel like at some point I just stopped learning.  And I feel like I don’t have that many friends.  When you get older it’s hard to make new friends.”

Surprised by her mother’s reaction, Byland wondered if her father shared these feelings and if something could have changed her fathers health. She realized that even someone like her very own mother, who lived a full life before retirement, was struggling with transitioning into her retired years, feeling more disconnected than ever. In that moment Byland decided to teach her mother improv and help other senior members of the community who have the same feelings as her parents.

Passion from the people

Elizabeth’s drive to help the senior community also stems from the people she works with.

“The fact of the matter is the senior community is alive and well and has just as much to contribute as the rest of us!  The senior community consists of our parents, and their parents, and so on!  If you ask me, those are some of the funniest people we all know!  Right?!  That crazy uncle… that loud grandparent… they drive me to teach this!  They are hilarious!  They have a voice, and they’re not done learning, or making new friends, and they’re certainly not done living,” says Elizabeth.

Elizabeth also loves the feedback she gets from participants. One of her participants said, “I really enjoyed your class. I always leave improv laughing and feeling more relaxed.  Also if you do more classes for the senior moments please let me know.  You have great energy.”

And another participant said, “I thoroughly enjoyed your course and would take another if you offer it.  I was even more excited to take another class with you after I saw you perform at The Warehouse Performing Arts Center. You have incredible knowledge for what you do.”

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Workshop Schedule

  • 10- 15 minutes of introductory games that encourage the
    students to let loose
  • 15 minutes of cognitive exercises that stimulate the individual
    and group mind
  • 30-45 minutes of exploring the basic principle of saying “YES AND…”
  • 30-40 minutes of fun 2-3 person scenes that incorporate the
    “YES AND” principle while trying on a few different characters!

Elizabeth’s favorite part of the workshop occurs about 30 minutes in.

“In the first several minutes, everyong is shy, nervous, and anxious.  Most participants are a bit reserved because I’m asking them to take my hand and step just a little bit outside of their comfort zone.  Once they take that little baby step outside, they begin to see that actually it’s kinda fun, and then right about 30 minutes into the class, everyone is ready to let go of my hand and dive right in! It’s awesome to see these mature and experienced adults not only trust me, but completely trust themselves to let go and be a kid again!  They start standing a little taller, they move more freely, and the energy!  GAH!  That energy spreads like wildfire through the group!”

The cognitive benefits of Improv

Improv offers incredible cognitive benefits with a built in support group that provides mental flexibility. In a typical improv game, your team must create a funny scene based off a third-person suggestion. That scene’s success relies on active listening, being in the moment, and building on others’ ideas—cognitive abilities that fade as we age.

Improv keeps them limber. In one study performed by Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, preliminary results showed that early-stage Alzheimer’s patients who practiced improv experienced “feelings of success and empowerment,” as well as an improved quality of life.

Elizabeth’s other involvements

Byland teaches acting and runs an improv program at Acting Out Studio for kids, teens, and adults.  During the day, she a works as an actor in film and tv.  She’s done several local and national commercials, one of which was a CPI commercial where she got to perform yoga right alongside Luke Kuechly.  This last year, Elizabeth co-founded the Queen City Comedy Festival with Cale Evans.  Most recently, Queen City Comedy has teamed up with The Blumenthal Center for Performing Arts and launched the Queen City Comedy Improv Room, which takes place at Stage Door Theatre the first Saturday of every month!  In addition, Byland also with local improv teams Mom’s Adhesive and Now are the Foxes. This weekend on Friday and Saturday (May 26th and 27th),  you can catch Elizabeth perform improv with Now are the Foxes at The Warehouse Center for Performing Arts at 8:00 p.m.!

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The future

In terms of Improv for Seniors, Byland has big plans for the future. “I hope to grow this into a non-profit organization that I can travel with from town to town, city to city, visiting retirement homes, senior centers, church groups, and more.  I hope to spread the good word about improv and tap into areas in the region that need this more than ever!” Elizabeth told us.

Elizabeth can also see herself getting involved with other programs for senior citizens.   “I definitely want to keep spreading my branches with other programs and workshops, and will continue to do so until I have the pleasure of one day being a participant,” says Byland.

Using comedy to encourage senior community members to work their mind, body, and soul transforms senior care into being more person centered. With Elizabeth Byland paving the way, programs for senior community members in our region will only expand.

Details about this Saturday’s class 

  • Age Range: Seniors (55+)
  • Facility Amenities: Parking on site
  • General Information: Hours of Operation: 1:30pm- 3:00pm
  • Location: Lake Norman / Davidson / Huntersville
  • Type: Comedy
  • Date: 05/27/17
  • Location: Warehouse Center for Performing Arts
    •  9216-A Westmoreland Rd. Cornelius, NC 28031
  • Phone: 859-803-3374
  • Email: elizabethbyland@gmail.com
  • Visit Website

 

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