FREQUENTLY ASKED Q'S
Why did you start your work with the Parkinson's Community?
It started out of fear - the fear of not completing a dream goal my dad and I had set out for ourselves to see all 30 MLB parks together. Dad’s Parkinson’s (PD) diagnosis in 2001 is what set that fear in motion. That first trip became the original, award-winning Boys of Summer documentary about my father and I road-tripping 20,000 miles in two months to see a game at each of the 30 MLB stadiums together.
What’s your background in filmmaking?
I studied screenwriting at UCLA and had two feature films made from my scripts while living in Los Angeles. I also acted in both and co-produced one. One of the films, The Playaz Court, got wide distribution by Artisan Entertainment. I went on to direct, write, edit and produce several more films, including a pair of award-winning Stephen King-based shorts (1, 2), as well as several health-related documentaries.
Along with studying screenwriting at UCLA, I have a B.A. (San Diego State) and M.A. UNLV in Journalism.
How many films are in the Boys of Summer project?
There are three films completed, the original Boys of Summer (2006) and Second Base (2016) and “Short Stop” (2020.) We are raising money for the fourth film in the series, Third Base, right now and we welcome your support. Third Base focuses on the latest in community outreach, quality of life programming, as well as the academic and scientific study of the effect of improvisation on Parkinson's disease. We plan to begin production in the summer of 2021 The fifth and final film, “Safe at Home” will be created at a future date.
The spine of the films document my father’s journey through Parkinson’s and our evolving relationship as he deals with the challenges of PD and simultaneously embraces the joys of life around him. In Short Stop, the focus begins to turn outward as we examine what other communities and people involved with Parkinson’s are doing to help people live to their fullest. In Third Base, we examine the communication gaps in the Parkinson’s community and how improvisation can be used to help fill those gaps.
Where does the donation/grant money go?
To the creation and completion of these films. Donations are made via Parkinson’s Place Las Vegas (PPLV), the local (for me) non-profit I am co-founder and a board member of.
What is Yes, And...eXercise!(YAX)?
YAX is an improvisational workshop for the PD community founded in the research done by Northwestern University. Their study demonstrated the positive effect of improvisation on those with Parkinson's. I have run workshops in San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. As co-founder of ComedySportz Las Vegas, I'm thrilled to announce that as many as 30 ComedySportz teams across the U.S. will be part of the fundraising and awareness efforts benefitting the Parkinson's Foundation in 2020.
What happens in a live YAX workshop?
They typically last two hours and consist of theater games that are adapted specifically for the Parkinson's community. There are typically between 10-25 participants and there is no limit on age or stage of PD - all are welcome. People with Parkinson's, their care partners along with medical and wellness providers participate. The games are connection, not performance-based, and there is absolutely no background in improvisation required. The games are founded in the pioneering work of Viola Spolin, who developed these games in the 1930's to help immigrant children in the U.S. communicate and assimilate.
Is online YAX different?
"Yes, and" the good news it it still has a very positive effect. The sessions typically last one hour and have the added benefit of bringing in people from all over the U.S. and U.K.. I'm hopeful we'll get some more international players soon, too. The calendar with upcoming classes can be found here.
How does improvisation positively affect PD?
Based on the research done in the Northwestern study, improvisation improves several quality of life measures for people with Parkinson's including stigma, communication and interactions with others. While training participants how to be funny isn't our goal in these workshops, laughter is a natural part of what we do. Many participants have reported rediscovering their sense of humor or other parts of themselves and even forgetting they had Parkinson's while playing. The positive effects of laughter are well-researched (1, 2, 3).
How are you furthering this research?
I am a PhD student, studying the effect of improvisation on Parkinson's in a joint venture with the Kinesiology and Theater departments at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. We are setting up studies in conjunction with the Lou Ruvo Brain Center for Health that will build upon the work done at Northwestern University and attempt to demonstrate quantitative data about the positive effects of improvisation on the brain.
What is Parkinson's Place Las Vegas (PPLV)?
PPLV is a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Southern Nevada with the mission to connect, empower, and inspire the PD community by providing local resources AND study and share with national and international PD communities to support and help PWP refresh their perspectives and live their lives to the fullest. I am co-founder and a board member.
We do more than sit for support. We are active and want everyone affected by or working to affect PD to move with us! We are all capable of more than we have imagined, particularly when we work and play together. We laugh, listen and learn - together. Our board members include representatives of Rock Steady Boxing, the Lou Ruvo Brain Center for Health, UNLV, ambassadors for the Davis Phinney Foundation,Motorvation and a well-known Obstacle Course Racing athlete with Parkinson's, Christian Banda.
Why do these films matter?
They tell the story of Parkinson’s in a unique, human and engaging way. This is, to my knowledge, the first and only longitudinal ethnography about a person with Parkinson's. Reviews from fans for the first two films can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes: Boys of Summer & Second Base.
How do people of need see the benefit?
By seeing a story that reflects their own, I hope PWP will be comforted and empowered to be active in their diagnosis, engaged with family and friends and inspired to do their best. The films show pathways Dan has taken to break out of depression, engaging in adventures, meeting new people and engaging in activities to positively affect his PD. Robert also hosts a webshow, “Faces of Parkinson’s” that gives people with or affiliated with PD a chance to tell their individual story and experiences with Parkinson’s.
For more information, please contact Robert.