An interview with Margot Escott- Improv Comedy for Parkinson’s on July 14, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Margot Escott LCSW graduated from the New York University School of Social Work in 1983 and has lived and practiced in Naples since 1984. In 1986 she became a Licensed Clinical Social worker in Florida.
For over thirty years she has presented workshops and seminars on the “Therapeutic Value of Humor and Play” on a national level and has published several articles on humor, geriatric issues, and improvisational comedy. She is an active member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Florida Chapter of NASW. She studied with psychologist Dr. Daniel Wiener, who wrote the first book on using improvisational theatre in clinical practice, Rehearsals for Growth (RfG). She is now an RfG Certified Trainer and Therapist. She currently teaches his program to therapists and teachers in China, online. In addition to her work with Dr. Wiener for over a decade, she has studied various schools of improvisational theatre, and performed and teaches diverse patient populations using improv. She is considered one of the pioneers in teaching Improv for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Please tell me a little about your background.
I am a clinical social worker and became involved in our local Parkinson’s Association of SW FL (PASFI) here in Naples in 1998. I was asked to speak at one of their first meetings, my topic was “Healing Power of Laughter & Play”. One week after that event my dad, Ivan Escott Jr. was diagnosed with PD. He became a member of PASFI with me and attended wonderful classes, like water exercise, and eventually was on the Board of Directors. In my clinical practice I began to treat more patients with PD as well as other movement disorders such as Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and Multiple system atrophy.
Can you tell me more about your Social Work?
I’ve had a private practice in Naples for over 35 years and since 1985 have been training mental health providers and the community on how games and play can enhance our lives and make us healthier. When I discovered Improvisational Theatre 13 years ago, I immediately saw the therapeutic value of this work.
Over a decade ago I began teaching improv to children on the Autism spectrum, teens, and adults with anxiety and in 2016 started my first groups of Improv for PD and caregivers. In 2023 I will present “Using Improv for Parkinson’s” at the Queen City Comedy Annual Improv Festival.
I have been teaching Therapeutic Improv and Improv for Parkinson’s at many national social work conferences including the New Jersey NASW, Florida NASW, and Oklahoma NASW.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
My passion is to help folks find more joy and laughter, despite this awful disease. My passion came from my experience as a care partner for my dad, who eventually had Lewy bodies. For the last five years of his life, he lived with my husband, Norm, and myself as primary care partners. He always kept a great sense of humor and faced this disease with courage and laughter. And from working with the other PD members in my community. Since PD is the fastest growing neurological issue today, I became even more committed to helping individuals and families develop a better quality of life. I also advocate for persons with PD through editorials in local newspapers and contacting state and federal representatives.
A story about my father: https://margotescott.com/2017/11/04/parkinsons-me/
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when working with you?
When students come to my classes, they often come with curiosity about just what this “improv”. I assure folks that in improv you don’t have to be funny, just like to have fun! This is a social and support group – but we don’t take care of medications or the disease. The primary goal is to allow students a safe and trusting space where they can discover their authentic selves, learn how to relax, and take a break from the numerous doctor appointments and concerns of everyday life. Since everyone with PD is their own unique individual, I offer knowledge of many years’ experiences working with the disease and as a care partner.
Many of our games address specific issues for my students. We do a series of facial exercises, using different emotions, to help decrease the mask-like expression that is often apparent. We start our classes with music and movement as exercise is so vital. The games we play help to decrease feelings of worry and sadness, aid with memory and cognition and the physical benefits from laughing and playing increase production of endorphins and dopamine!
What type of training and how long are the programs?
Today all our classes are online, and students come from around the US and the world! I offer a six-week beginner program and then a more advanced time limited class. I teach an ongoing group every Saturday morning for my more advanced students. This group has performed two live shows online via Facebook and the audiences, composed of their friends and families have come from as far away as India.
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
Our classes and groups provide a lighthearted 1 1/2 hours of play and tools to cope with stressors. They report feeling more relaxed and connected with the other members. Married couples have told me they have better communication skills and in difficult times, play an improv game!
What would you like to see as a future goal for your programs?
My organization is one of the pioneers in using improvisational theatre for people with Parkinson’s and care partners. My future goal is to train more professionals working with PD, such as physical and occupational therapists, physicians and physicians who are certified movement disorder specialists.
What events do you participate in?
We have an annual walk in Naples for PD, and I’ve participated in the World Parkinson’s Day events. I teach improv for Mission PD https://mission-pd.org/ and The Tightrope Theatre Parkinson’s program. I participate in Symposiums on PD and care partner issues.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
You are a special and unique person and keep hope and laughter in your heart.