Improvisation Can Help to Heal 

By Jade Angelica

Improvisation Practitioner

In the summer of 2005, I completed my spiritual direction training and moved from Maine to Boston.  I wanted to pursue two programs of study that, to an objective observer, might have seemed completely unrelated: improvisation and a doctorate of ministry in faith,   health and spirituality.  To me, these areas of interest had become inseparable.

During my first day of class at ImprovBoston University, my teacher said something profound and unforgettable:  “The first rule of improvisation is to make your scene partner look good.”  This rule eventually became my mantra for compassionate, effective Alzheimer’s caregiving.

While studying improvisation, I began to notice that the principles of improvisation resembled the spiritual qualities I had studied in theology classes, practiced through prayer and meditation, and aspired to integrate into my life, such as:

  • Attentive listening
  • Being present in the moment
  • Expanding awareness and observation
  • Letting go of the need to control—or even know—what happens next
  • Being open to noticing and receiving what the situation is offering
  • Responding in a way that is supportive and promotes self-esteem
  • Acknowledging our interdependence
  • Opening ourselves up to previously unimagined possibilities
  • Experiencing, embracing, and expressing joy

I discovered through experience that becoming familiar with these qualities embodied in improvisation and practicing them as “skills” could lead to healing.

Inspired by these discoveries, I have endeavored to develop and offer healing improvisation programs for others, believing that we adults can greatly benefit from having more high-energy FUN!

Improvisation programs offered for Healing:

Healing Moments for Alzheimer’s: Dementia Caregiver Education

In 2007, I founded the non-profit organization, Healing Moments for Alzheimer’s.  With a dedicated board of directors and educators we offer workshops, conference presentations, and community services all around the country.  Our mission is to improve the quality of life for persons with Alzheimer's and dementia, reduce caregiver stress, and inspire a hopeful attitude. Using experiential methods based on improvisational theatre exercises and spiritual practices, we teach caregivers how to communicate effectively and connect deeply with persons with Alzheimer's and dementia.

For more information about Healing Moments go to:

Spirited Improvisation for Seniors

Currently under development.

For more information contact:

I'm not a natural improviser—so my passion for this theatre craft came as a complete surprise! At first I was terrified, but after a few classes I saw the unmistakable potential for healing through improv.​

Like many people, I tend to fear the unknown. Because of our fear, we often try to deny unwanted realities or to control what happens next in a desperate attempt to know the future. Keith Johnstone, improvisation performer, teacher, and author of Impro: Improvisation and The Theatre,  calls us “no-sayers.” Through our efforts, he says, we experience more safety. Alternatively, “yes-sayers,”—those who accept what is and are comfortable not knowing what will be—experience more adventure.

In the arena of improvisational theatre, Johnstone’s assessment may be a primary truth. In the arena of real life, though, another, deeper truth about no-sayers and yes-sayers emerges. By saying “yes” to what is—accepting reality—and wondering about, rather than fearing the future, we experience more healing. Johnstone proposes that we no-sayers can learn to say “yes,” and my own life is a hopeful testament to this possibility.

I discovered improvisation during a truly terrible time in my life. An abusive relationship had ended, and the dividing of our mutually owned property and assets was festering in the courts. My suffering was evident to everyone. A wise friend suggested that, in addition to my therapy and support group, I might benefit from having some fun. She encouraged me to attend an improvisation class. I did and my life changed forever.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” ​ ~Bertha Calloway

“​Pure improvisation is the unconditional welcoming of the present moment. From this perspective, improvisation is not so much inventive as it is revelatory. We learn to trust that everything we need is already here, waiting to be discovered—IF we are willing to be open to it.”   ~ David LaGraffe