Am A - Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt present their show about neuroplasticity

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am a | Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt | The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab | February 21 – March 4, 2017

A dancer learns to use her voice. A theatre artist learns to dance. Together, they demonstrate what they have learned about neuroplasticity.

Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt greeted us as we came into the theatre and asked us to put our belongings at our seat and then join them on stage. On the crowded stage Funk Barton taught us the Electric Slide line dance and sent us back to our seats. Later in the show, we were asked to do a visualization of the dance we learned, and they explained that this method of repetition is just as effective in learning a new skill. It seems that, as far as our brains are concerned, thinking about doing something can be the same as actually doing it.

Through personal stories and telling about their experiment to learn something new for this show, Funk Barton and Parfitt explained how our brains learn new skills and how they can be rewired to form new habits. The actions that we repeat daily, and the things we tell ourselves often, create neuron superhighways — pathways that are much easier to repeat than to break.

There were a couple of moments that felt a bit like a TED talk, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, while other moments left each of them vulnerable as they told us about their journey to rewire their own brains. The show’s title comes from Japan’s ama divers, women who free dive to retrieve seafood and pearls.

For the finale, Parfitt changed into a white tutu and showed off a ballet solo while Funk Barton put on a long green gown and sung us an opera tune. It was obvious that they had both spent a lot of time learning these new skills, and they both did a commendable job. They also both talked about appreciating the skills they do have, that our brains are constantly adapting, and not taking any of it for granted.   

While I would say this show felt like an artfully presented lecture full of personal anecdotes, the interesting projections and well-timed staging kept it moving along, and the hopeful message that it’s never too late to change your ways or learn something new put us in the perfect mood for the onstage dance party where we capped off the show by trying out our new Electric Slide moves. 

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