Improv Outreach: Amelia Bane ’12 builds communication through comedy, improvisational theater

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After growing up in Hampton, Virginia, Amelia Bane ’12 wasn’t sure that she wanted to go to the College of William and Mary, practically in her backyard, even if she thought it was wonderful. Choosing to go to the College ended up being the right choice for her, but it would not be the last unexpected decision that she would make. 

While at the College, Bane double majored in English and film and media studies, which at the time was called literary and cultural studies. She said she was primarily involved with 7th Grade Sketch Comedy, the Bosnia Project — now called the ABC Project — the Global Film Festival and University Communications. 

“My favorite days [at the College] were always show days for 7th Grade Sketch,” Bane said. “We would meet three times a week and write for two hours. Every six or eight weeks, we would put on a show with all of this energy and excitement going into one hour on a Friday night. I work with people all the time putting on shows, but it’s never quite as pure.” 

After graduating, Bane packed up and moved to New York City. She had always planned on pursuing comedy and TV and film production, and those passions were solidified after ending up in the city. However, her current career path is not what she initially predicted. 

Just over a year after moving to New York, Bane enrolled in a master’s program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, where she designed her own master’s degree in communications and improvisation. Because her program was a low-residency program, she still spent most of her time in New York and designed her own syllabi and projects for her master’s. 

“I went there planning to make a film about anxiety and ADHD, particularly in adolescent girls, and I was encouraged to think about what skills that I had that I could actually use,” Bane said. “I am a comedian; I am an improviser, so I went down this rabbit hole of research.” 

From this research, Bane created a film exploring how improvisational theater could be used as a complement to therapy for adolescent girls dealing with anxiety and ADHD. This research also sparked a passion that led to Bane founding her own nonprofit called Community Building Art Works. 

Bane had been working as an art teacher while pursuing her master’s, and as the Trump administration came into office, Bane became worried that the funding that allowed her and other artists to work with service members and veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center would disappear. Not wanting to turn her back on the service members, she started a nonprofit almost two years ago to keep providing art workshops, just under a new name. 

Bane teaches improvisational theater to service members and veterans alongside other art teachers who lead workshops on poetry, writing and visual arts. 

“We are generally trying to do community building,” Bane said. “With improv, we are working with communication. When people come back from being deployed or working in these jobs that can be challenging, they lose the ability to have normal interactions. There is not a lot of resources [for them]. Through improv and playing, we do work with emotions. We’ll have people improvise a different emotional state and someone will guess what they are feeling and unpack what that looks like and what that feels like. The most important part of it is that it’s an hour of their day where … they can kind of relax. When you are able to relax in your body, you are able to relax in your brain as well.” 

Bane said that, in the future, she hopes her work as a board member for Community Building Art Works will become her full-time job. As of right now, she spends about one week a month in Washington, D.C. working at hospitals leading her workshops. She spends the rest of her time working to apply for grants to secure funding for the nonprofit. She estimates that the nonprofit works with several hundred veterans and service members each month. 

Coming full circle, Bane came back to visit the College this past weekend because “We Are Not Done Yet,” an HBO documentary about her nonprofit, was screened at the Global Film Festival. 

“It’s very cool; it’s weird,” Bane said. “One of my first classes I took was in Tucker Hall, and my film screened in the theater in Tucker Hall. I had this moment where I felt like I was running late for class, but I was walking into a screening for my film. I used to be in the audience, but I was answering questions from the podium.” 

Making the transition from art teacher to founding Community Building Art Works might seem linear, but Bane said that if it hadn’t been for her time with the ABC Project, she never would have felt comfortable working with veterans. However, even signing up for the ABC Project happened on a whim — especially when most of her classmates in the project were government majors. 

Adam Stackhouse ’04, who ran this year’s Global Film Festival, worked with Bane on something called Audio Adventures. Every so often, students would download an audio file, put on their headphones, and explore the campus on a guided adventure. Other students, like Bane, participated as actors in the stories. Stackhouse encouraged Bane to get involved with the ABC Project. 

“I told [government professor Paula Pickering], the professor that teaches the course on Bosnia, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start the nonprofit without her class,” Bane said. “I went with mostly people more interested in government; they each co-taught with a Bosnian teacher. Over the course of the month, we wrote films with the students because I had the film experience, and I shot and edited them, and we put on a screening for their families.” 

Bane still performs regularly. She performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and does some stand-up comedy routines as well. Soon, she will be traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada to perform with another group. 

“I think performing is a way to get out of my head,” Bane said. “I feel most comfortable on stage, oddly, which is why I love the work that I do. I know what that has done for me, so I see the potential that I can do for others.” 

Bane said that while she still works very hard, since leaving the College, she has learned how to work smarter and has calmed down just a bit. 

“I think I loved my time here,” Bane said. “I don’t feel intimidated by a lot because I felt intimidated when I first came here. I learned how to work well with people and be challenged by other people here.”