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Camp Yes And returns to IU to teach teens with autism through improv comedy



IU is a hotbed of student improv comedy, but the laughs don’t stop when students leave campus for the summer.

Camp Yes And is a free week-long improv comedy camp for teens on the autism spectrum. Campers learn social communication skills through learning and performing improv comedy. 

“The biggest thing is building an environment where you can take risks and make mistakes,” said Jim Ansaldo, the founder and co-director of Camp Yes And. 

Ansaldo has practiced improv since the 80s and frequently performs with ComedySportz Indianapolis. He also works as a research scholar at IU’s Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. 

Ansaldo is currently working with the IU School of Medicine to include improv comedy into cognitive behavioral therapy for youth suffering from anxiety disorders.

The program focuses on connection and awareness when trying to create an improv scene, which can be beneficial for social development. Students learn how to recognize body language and how to accept and build upon — or “yes, and” — every offer another person in the scene has made. 

“This skill of accepting another’s reality – even when it’s something one doesn’t like or agree with – is transformational,” according to the Camp Yes And website.

Learning and performing improv helps the teens develop social skills by allowing them to be expressive and mimicking real life social interactions, said Carly Holzner, an IU senior and and the marketing intern for Camp Yes And.

“Getting on stage would scare me so bad, but the way Jim approaches it is very welcoming,” Holzner said. “He shows that we all make mistakes, but we support each other in every scene we do.”

It's as much of a learning process for the staff as it is the students. The first half of each day is spent training the educators and showing them strategies to help support the teens within games and scenes they perform. 

Creating a fun and low pressure environment is very important, Ansaldo said. 

Camp staff and educators use the second half of the day to model and teach the teens improv games and how to perform scenes. 

Each week they have a public showcase with all the students. The next showcase is at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union from 3:30-4:30 p.m. July 6.  

The demand for the camp has been very high. Sessions held at IUPUI were filled in less than 24 hours in both 2016 and 2017, according to the Camp Yes And website. Holzner, who has been the marketing intern since her freshman year, said the camp stays connected with campers through social media throughout the year. 

“A lot of the teens like to come back every year, so it’s a good way to keep them coming back,” Holzner said. “Even once they’ve graduated, they still come back."

Camp Yes And relies on IU Foundation funds, personal donations and grants to run the program. Ansaldo is aiming to raise additional funds as well as share improv comedy with the Bloomington community in the upcoming B-Town Improv Hoedown comedy festival. 

“It’ll start as a fairly small festival, but I would love for some IU comedy groups to get involved,” Ansaldo said.

The festival will take place on October 5 at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. All proceeds will go to Camp Yes And. 

“We could definitely run twice as many sessions and help more teens with more funding,” Anslo said. 

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