by Jon M Thomas
2015 has been a transformative year for my improv, full of unexpected events and opportunities, as changing circumstances have brought me closer to my peers in Cambridge and caused me to consider, in a way I perhaps should have been already, exactly what course my journey should be taking. What was perhaps the most significant and personally satisfying event was also the most unexpected. Specifically, I attended the Mayday’s annual Osho Leela improv retreat as a recipient of the Jason Chin scholarship.
Jason, who sadly passed away in January of this year, was more than just a prolific and influential improviser. To those who knew him well, he will always be remembered as a generous, giving, and kind-hearted man. It was in this spirit that the Maydays announced the Jason Chin scholarship, to sponsor someone to attend their annual retreat, someone who would only need, in their words; “a determination to spread open-hearted collaboration in the improv community, to carry the torch that the much loved, and greatly missed, Jason passed to us.”
It was a great honour and privilege for me to be chosen for this purpose, not just for the recognition and validation of my desire to use improv as a tool to aid in the recovery of those who, like me, have mental health problems, but to be the recipient of the legacy of care and acceptance which was clearly so important to Jason. As a man who has, in darker times, examined the concept of his own mortality, I decided that the meaning of life, if there is to be one, must be to affect, and to be affected by the world, and it’s a humbling thing to be shown so directly the impact that a life well lived can have.
My time in Leela was simultaneously emotionally overwhelming, intellectually challenging, and personally enriching, but the hardest part of the whole thing was coming home again. Spending almost a week in the exclusive company of people who are passionate about the same thing you are, enthusiastic about your fanciful plans, and offer unabashed support and encouragement on your work is actually somewhat difficult. Perhaps that is due to the lingering effects of my exciting list of mental disorders, but my modesty took a serious beating from which it may not ever recover. I believe this long term damage may manifest itself as something called ‘increased confidence’, and I feel more sure than ever that not only can I make my idea of using improv as a recovery tool work, but I won’t have to do it alone. Sounds like hell right?
By the end of my time there, I felt more free and alive than I ever have before, and the phantom pain I am experiencing at feeling cut off from that environment is proving hard to deal with, which is why it has taken me some time to express my thoughts on it. So the only thing I can do is to take the things that I’ve learned, and the friends that I’ve made, and try to make everyday life feel that good, not just for myself, but for anyone who needs it, as it should be.
Jon M. Thomas