The Smile Club depicts the mentally ill patients as the heroes of the story and inverts the sanest gaze of the“asylum film” exploitation genre. The choreography depicts a group of people with symptoms of various mental health conditions as they are institutionalized for an experimental treatment. This treatment claims to be about teaching them to re-orient their negativity into more useful, positive thought patterns by teaching them how to smile in reality, it is about teaching them how to mask their true feelings and fake being happy.
The choreography and storyline for The Smile Club are inspired by alleged psychiatric practices performed in Budapest, Hungary during the Great Depression. In the wake of the First World War, the city earned a reputation as “The City of Suicides.” A school opened up with a simple goal: to teach the population how to smile. The idea was that this would trigger more serotonin production, and would cure an impoverished city, collectively traumatized by war, of the widespread urge to end their lives. This show empowers audience members with inspiration and the realization that everyone has the ability to directly affect their own well-being as well as those around them.