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ART & SOUL: Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is indeed a magical elixir and Nick Mercer and the Avion Players are practicing some such alchemy Jan. 20-21 at the Arts and Culture Center in Gander, says columnist Carolyn Parsons.
Laughter is indeed a magical elixir and Nick Mercer and the Avion Players are practicing some such alchemy Jan. 20-21 at the Arts and Culture Center in Gander, says columnist Carolyn Parsons. - Contributed

A long time ago, a wise person told me that whenever I felt depressed or down, lonely or blue, to watch a comedy show.

It won’t lift you out of clinical depression but it might give you just enough of a boost to move you forward a millimetre until real relief comes. Ready to try anything, I turned to Youtube. And that’s when I discovered that Robin Williams’s standup or an old Carol Burnett skit could lift me out of any of my doldrums by regaling me with such old foolishness that I would have aching cheeks and need to go to the bathroom after just a few minutes.

Laughter is indeed a magical elixir and Nick Mercer and the Avion Players are practicing some such alchemy Jan. 20-21 at the Arts and Culture Center in Gander.

The theatre group, now in its 66th year, boasts over 40 members from all walks of life. While some have theatre training and background, many are regular people who just want to participate. In the past they delivered a fall production and the spring provincial festival show and recently they added a third, a sketch comedy show. The Provincial Drama Festival is in its 70th year and it’s the longest-running full-length play festival in Canada. Avion has not missed a year in 66 years of their existence.

“Avion is known for its comedy. Our Gander audience love a comedy and its usually our highest ticket sales,” Mercer said.

“It’s a privilege to bring what we love to do to an audience,” the writer of the show said, adding that participation in the Avion Players has been creatively fulfilling for him. “It’s something really special, seeing your work to fruition from being written to the stage.”

It’s a little nerve-wracking sometimes too. Especially comedy. That opening night he sits wondering, “Will anyone laugh at this. Am I funny?”

Only the audience can answer that question.

I think we Newfoundlanders are particularly good at comedy. Everybody likes to have a good time, but it seems like Newfoundland and Labrador made a culture of it.

For centuries, isolated communities created their own entertainment out of necessity and practiced honing their wit on each other. Levity was a survival mechanism too. Times were hard and before we had Netflix to turn to, homemade humour helped us cope with our despair.

Fun was the order of the evening, and worries of failing fish stocks and falling prices were left behind; camaraderie, community and fun the only agenda items.

When I think of sketch comedy, I think of the old community concerts, the hall filled with familiar faces, enjoying skits, recitations and music. Humour was the only theme as men dressed as women and women dressed as youngsters, all doing whatever it took to make that audience weep with laughter and delight.

Fun was the order of the evening, and worries of failing fish stocks and falling prices were left behind; camaraderie, community and fun the only agenda items.

I did a little Googling, because I suspected laughter was also good for you and sure enough, it turns out researchers have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels, it boosts heart rate and increases the production of certain antibodies, which strengthens our immune system.

Victor Hugo said, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

Given we’re just at the cusp of that challenging season, perhaps a jaunt over to the Gander Arts and Culture Centre to take in some sketch comedy rays is just the medicine needed to prevent the winter doldrums. 

Side effects include side stitches and aching cheeks.

A full interview with Nick Mercer will air on the Bridges Radio program here

Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at carolynrparsons@gmail.com

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