As a theater major at Rutgers, Bart Sumner discovered that acting and improvisational theater had the power to inspire others. He particularly enjoyed his time performing with the Mason Gross School of the Arts’ Shoestring Players, an improvisational children’s theater troupe, where he developed a love for acting that persists to this day.

When tragedy struck his family nearly 25 years after graduation, Sumner RC’86 discovered that improv also has the power to heal, and he is committed to sharing this personal lesson with others.

In 2009, Sumner and his wife, Leslie, were busy raising two children, David, 10, and Abby, 7. Their lives changed forever when an accident on the football field took David’s life. “I can’t describe what it is like to lose a child,” says Sumner. “One minute they are there, and the next minute they are not.”

Returning to his job teaching improv just weeks later, Sumner soon realized that acting and laughter provided emotional relief from his ever-present grief. Improv especially helped him open up, leading him to communicate more deeply with his family through several difficult years.

Sumner recounts his experiences in Healing Improv: A Journey Through Grief to Laughter, published in April 2014.  The book details how, in 2013, he founded Healing Improv, a nonprofit offering “no-cost comedy improv grief workshops to aid people to break free from stifling grief.” Groups such as the Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A. have included his sessions in their conferences. Recently, the Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund of Coastal Community Foundation supported Healing Improv by giving a $10,000 donation.

“I almost drove my car off the road when my wife called and told me,” recalls Sumner, laughing. The funding will allow him to continue helping others in painful situations because, as Sumner states on Healing Improv’s website, “there are joyous and downright silly things waiting to be lived.”