Students find the funny through the arts

When was the last time you laughed? Whether it was a just a chuckle or an all-out, tears-in-your-eyes, straight-from-the-gut kind of laugh, the simple act of cracking a smile and letting go enough to laugh helped to improve your mental health, even if just for a few moments.
As May, which is often cited as Mental Health Awareness Month, began, the Fox Cities P.A.C. was wrapping up a months-long project that focused on the importance of Finding the Funny with students from Appleton Central High School.
As part of the Frank C. Shattuck Performing Arts Touch the Hearts of Students (P.A.T.H.S.) program, 16 students explored the use of humor as a healthy coping mechanism to respond to challenges, accept responsibility and develop a positive outlook on life.
At their first meeting, students were introduced to comedy with touring comedian Lucas Bohn, who visited the classroom to kick off the project. They were then visited by a member of Comedy City to learn about teamwork using humorous improvisation and theater games that helped them begin communicating as a group.
Chris Wardlow, MAT, PS, Prevention Specialist for Catalpa Health and Outagamie County brought his knowledge to the classroom, explaining the impact of laughter on mental health and welcoming the students to tell jokes to one another in an interactive game.
“There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that positive forms of humor, humor that isn’t hurtful or demeaning, has many mental health benefits from reducing stress, depression, anxiety and fear, to elevating mood and increasing energy,” Wardlow said. “Most importantly, finding the funny is a skill that can be learned and strengthened over time.”
Now that the students learned how to work together, and how to make each other laugh, it was time for a challenge to test out their new skills. Along with Sarah Ross, assistant professor of scenic design at UW-Steven’s Point, the students were invited to create a set piece themed with The Play That Goes Wrong. In just two design sessions and four one-hour builds, the group was able to create a grandfather clock, complete with humorous elements, out of reinforced cardboard. They also constructed a frame with hemmed curtains to complete their look. 
Together, they installed their set piece in the lobby on the Grand Tier Level of the Fox Cities P.A.C. to be displayed during The Play That Goes Wrong, met with a member of the touring company and celebrated their achievements with dinner and watching the funny unfold during the show. Participating students shared that this project helped them learn it was ok to be silly, what they could accomplish as a team and how laughter brought them together to try something new.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” Wardlow said. “Humor can facilitate social connections, and social connectedness is critical to mental health and resilience.”
Remember that question from the beginning of this article: when was the last time you laughed? If you couldn’t think of an answer, or you are up against a particularly unfunny challenge in your life, we encourage you to take a lesson from this project, and these students and remember that laughter is important, not only for you, but for the people around you. Be silly, work together and know that you will make it through, just try to take a moment to find the funny.
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