On March 28, improv powerhouses Mantown and Notorious (featuring Ashley Botting) come together to use their power for good, with a hilarious night of comedy to benefit Haven Toronto, a drop-in centre serving homeless, marginally housed, and socially isolated men age 50 and over. Producer Mat Mailandt described his experience working with the men from Haven:
“Every day I walk by homeless people. I never know what to do or say. Do I make eye contact and smile? Do I apologize for not giving any change? Do I ignore them completely? I’m confronted on a daily basis by my privilege, and saddened by their lives. Generally I feel hopeless and overwhelmed; truthfully, these interactions make me very uncomfortable.
It was with this sense of discomfort that I visited Haven Toronto for the first time. I’d arranged to train some of their guys to improvise. Walking in, I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what to say, if I’d act in a way that would offend someone, or if the men would be open to doing improv.
The second I walked, everyone turned and looked at me. I clearly stood out. Someone said ‘You look like a lawyer!’ I replied, ‘I’m not, but I’ll take that as a compliment.’ I smiled, took a deep breath and reminded myself that everything worth doing is scary.
The first class started like any other: chairs in a circle, eye contact, introductions. I expected the process to be difficult; I figured these guys would have built up some walls, understandably. I thought some of them would get up and leave the workshop with no warning.
What I discovered pretty quickly was these men were some of the most open, kind and supportive students I’d ever worked with. Within minutes we were laughing and cracking jokes. They all entered into exercises with enthusiasm, took feedback well, and told stories about their lives. They shared things they loved, like one former truck driver who missed meeting women on the road, especially in Kansas. Another guy talked about his struggles trying to find an apartment amongst the waves of Syrian refugees looking for the same thing. These men seemed to have so little, but they still have an incredible ability to create. Their perspectives were diverse, touching and shockingly, full of hope.
Now I’ve completed my training sessions with them. On Tuesday, they’ll perform in a fundraiser show for the organisation that supports them. I’m excited to raise some money for a worthy cause. But equally important is that these guys are going to get the chance to get onstage. Our goal is to shine the light on elder homelessness. And we’re going to do it. Literally.
A friend of mine told me we’re all one life event away from being homeless. That really resonated with me. For most of my life I’ve felt sympathy for those less fortunate, but basically I’ve done nothing to help. My excuse was always that I’m broke and so what could I give? I can barely pay rent, let alone donate to charity. What I now realize is that I do have time. And I know how to listen.
The whole experience at Haven was less about improv and more about sharing. I shared my expertise and time and they shared their experiences, their struggles and their joys. What I realized is that in that room, the one with the most walls was me. The hardest part was walking in the door. The rest, I improvised.
About the event:
A night of improv to benefit Haven Toronto, featuring top Canadian comedians and a very special performance by Haven members. Hosted by comedic duo and real-life bothers Freddie Rivas (Rapp Battlz) and Miguel Rivas (The Beaverton).
March 28, 8:00 p.m., Comedy Bar Cabaret, 945 Bloor Street West