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Robert Cochrane, PhD
YAX CEO, Founder & Lone Nut

Dr. Robert Cochrane is a graduate of UNLV's Integrated Health Sciences department. He's researching the effect of improvisation and storytelling on Parkinson’s disease. He received grants from the Parkinson's Foundation and support from the Davis Phinney Foundation along the way. He is a popular, unique and high energy Keynote speaker, bringing joy, optimism and practical tools for people in the PD community to thrive today. 


He has a background in filmmaking, with the Artisan Entertainment release, The Playaz Court, and two Stephen King-based short films among his credits. His father, Dan, was diagnosed with PD in 2001, which shifted Robert’s artistic lens to health. He made his first documentary, the award-winning Boys of Summer in 2004. There are two follow up films in the series with the fourth film coming in 2023. 


He moved his family back to Walnut Creek, CA, where he grew up. He lives there with his beautiful wife, two teenagers who are, indeed, "all that" and is a proud care partner for his amazing parents.

Susan has loved life all of her 71+ years.  She is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, student and friend. In 2015, she discovered she is also a Person with Parkinson’s (PWP).  Much like everyone who hears the words “Parkinson’s Disease” and “you” in the same sentence, Susan was numb for a while.  YES, numb … AND she instantly found herself surrounded by the love and support of family and friends. Her lifetime smile returned, soothing the numbness.  Susan’s nephew, Adam, challenged and inspired her to exercise by attempting a nonstop, 65-mile swim. It was featured in the award-winning documentary, VICTORY SWIM. Susan shared her stories of what it means to thrive with Parkinson’s as keynote speaker at the University of Maryland’s Within Our Reach Symposium


Robert reached out to Susan after seeing VICTORY SWIM, sharing his hypothesis that improv could improve quality of life measures for PWP. She can confirm, YES, Robert was a Lone Nut with his ideas about improv… AND she became his official First Follower. She participates in every Day One class and YAX playshop available.  She serves as a Mentor in the Day One program, as the Co-host of the YouTube Daily Dose of Dope(-amine), the Festival Director for the Yes, And eXercise Festival in Texas (YAX F iT) and, generally, as an all-around Robin to Robert’s Batman. 


Susan lives in Austin, Texas with her husband of 50 years and their Golden Retriever.

Susan Scarlett
YAX F iT Festival Director & First Follower


Yes, And...eXercise! (YAX) was built off serendipity - as much in improv is. YAX Founder Robert Cochrane has performed improv for over 20 years. He began using it in the classroom about 10 years ago as a communication and team-building exercise. At the time, he wasn't aware of other practitioners, like those at ComedySportz (produced by CSz Worldwide), developing and training with what's known as Applied Improvisation. The lightbulb moment about improv's potential positive effect on PD, came when Robert introduced his dad, who has PD, to one of his favorite improv instructors, Rob Belushi. A clip of that interview from the  documentary, Boys of Summer, "Second Base", can be seen below.


...And How it Can Help



Improvisation is a transformative exercise, engaging your body and mind. A simple and elegant definition for improv is: "unplanned collaborative response." While it often elicits laughs, and it is fun, it's also much more.

Improv can help increase socialization in the Parkinson's disease (PD) community, decrease depression and reshape the thought process of those affected by PD. It helps us remember and understand that though we may have or be affected by PD, we need not be defined nor unnecessarily limited by it. In short, by participating and communicating, the players will be transformed.


Improvisation has the power to transform and connect groups. There are frequently communication gaps between people with PD and their care partners, as well as medical and wellness providers. By bringing people together to see and hear each other as people, rather than disease states or titles, we can increase understanding, empathy and quality of life.

“Improvisation is a process applicable to any field, discipline, or subject matter which creates a place where full participation, communication, and transformation can take place." 

Viola Spolin


Improv, when focused on play, inclusion, and ensemble-building, has been shown to improve confidence, creativity and mood.  It's important to note that not all improv is the same. Performance-based improv on popular shows such as "Who's Line is it Anyway?" is a blast - but not at all what we're after. We make YOU look and feel great. There are no wrong answers. We celebrate failure, trust the unknown and fiercely have each others backs. Laughter happens together as we find the truth in comedy. Speaking of laughter...

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Improvisation is not stand up comedy. As we do our exercises together, laughter and humor are natural products of the play we share. We discover the laughs organically, together an they're never at anyone else's expense. You know laughter feels good, but did you know it's also been shown to:

Boost the immune system, release endorphins, stimulate circulation and improve respiration (1, 2, 3).


1 Craig, 2005, 2 Baquero, 2013, 3 Schrag, 2006


PD can be a frustrating, painful disease. However, patients don't usually die directly from it. Anxiety and depression, caused by isolation, are comorbidities that can lead to significant losses in quality of life. The good news is, improv can help.


"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators." - Julianne Holt-Lunstad



After the Northwestern study came out in 2016, Robert ran some workshops of his own across the country. He met with many neurologists, sharing the Northwestern study and what he learned. They all loved the idea and said there needs to be more research. 

So it began. He earned his PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program. He researched the effect of improvisation and storytelling on Parkinson's disease and found increases in confidence, creativity and communication among his participants. He has worked with the Davis Phinney Foundation, Parkinson's Foundation, PD Avengers, PMD Alliance and many other groups to develop this work.

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