In the fall of 2014, a group of people in Victoria, Canada who shared both an interest in their neighbourhood and a quirky sense of humour were brought together to explore a question: Could they turn their experiences of the ups and downs of neighbourhood leadership, activism and volunteering into physical comedy sketches?
Project participants were trained in theatre and physical comedy techniques over six weeks and collaboratively developed a show called Laughing Allowed! The Slapstick World of Neighbourhood Activism. The one-night-only performance drew one hundred and fifty audience members, most of whom stayed for a focused conversation afterwards to explore the show’s themes.
Laughing Allowed! was such a success that, as the facilitators, we’ve developed this guide to support and encourage others to develop similar creative projects that can help increase neighbourhood resilience by combining timely and locally-relevant issues with participatory research and physical comedy.
Our project was part of a broader engagement effort in Greater Victoria led by Building Resilient Neighborhoods (BRN), an organization that launched in 2012 with the aim of helping to create and promote social, cultural, economic and environmental resiliency through neighbourhood-based, citizen-led actions.
(For more information, see http://resilientneighbourhoods.ca/)
Laughing Allowed! provided 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. Both the development process and the show itself created a vibrant space for people to talk freely about their common challenges.
The post-performance conversation with the audience and project participants 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.
A full-length video and shorter clips of the show were posted for free online, and they too have subsequently been used by other groups to prompt reflection and discussion at their own gatherings.
This guide is organized into three main sections. First, we describe the basics of our approach: Why to do a project of this kind, how to choose a topic or theme to explore, and an overview of the creative method that we used. Second, we provide a day-by-day how-to guide for running your own project from start to finish. Third, we offer more detailed notes for each workshop day that include tips, reflections, reference materials, and insights from our own experiences.