Note: This post is inspired both by #yesallwomen and a conversation I had with a female improv student who wanted advice on what to do when a male scene partner makes you uncomfortable on stage.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic if they differ with my own. I just kind of have OPINIONS on being a female in improvisation.
Improvisation is the most democratic form of comedy. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, the improviser creates his or her own reality on stage.* The improviser is not at the mercy of a script someone else wrote.
In college, I had a conversation with a (wildly talented) female comedian who was in a sketch group. She felt like she got edited out of shows. They didn’t usually include her writing and any time she appeared on stage it was as mom or wifey. This kind of thing doesn’t have to happen in improv because you’re the writer, the editor, the performer, the set designer, the whole thing.
If you are in an established group, the hope is that you enjoy and respect each other. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of the best men on the planet are improvisers. I think it attracts guys who are smart and funny who listen well and are genuinely fantastic. That has been my experience working in groups. You know each other’s personal boundries. However, in a class environment when you are paired with strangers, this mutual understanding is not a sure thing. You want to hope that a guy will pick up on cues if a lady is uncomfortable when he gets randy and that he modifies behavior. You want to hope that.
But here’s the incredible thing about being a woman in improv – you can have a machete in your backpack and threaten his life if he doesn’t back off. Or you have a laser gun that turns men into cows. Or you are a super powerful wizard and know like a million spells including ones that render men respectful.
I mean, we don’t want to Michael Scott our way through life, but the point is this – IT IS MAKE BELIEVE! It doesn’t exist! That means you have power. You have so much power.
We should make the stage a safe space for everyone. As a community we should all agree to not be jerks. The #yesallwomen hashtag has been painful and illuminating for me. Just thinking about how much crap we put up with and don’t think twice about on a daily basis – it’s awful. Here’s something cool though – you don’t have to put up with crap on stage. And if someone gives you a hard time for not “yes anding” something that makes you uncomfortable – screw it. You are the priority. The only wrong answer is being a jerk.
My opinion about women in improv – we are powerful. Power is beautiful. Use it.
*As with all performance, this is compromised if you have a disrespectful audience – and lord knows I’ve performed in front of bachelorette parties.
** If you are a potential bachelorette party goer reading this, please have mercy on the performers. We do think you are special and hilarious and we hope you’re having a good time. Just, you know, be quiet during the show.