Do you really want ME? 10 ways to cast and keep women improvisors.

So the issue of gender equality in improv groups, teams, ensembles (choose whichever word fits you best) comes up a lot in the various improv scenes. In a often male dominated art form, many male-led groups finally wake up to the fact that they need some lady representation. First of all, THANK YOU for realizing the importance of the woman’s voice and reaching out. This is the first step, and you are definitely in the one percent category. So again, Thank you. Excuse me for wanting more then just a numbers game of male and female equality, but I do. I whole-heartedly do.

Many groups don’t get past this first step, and end up losing valuable and talented female improvisors. And a huge number of female improvisors stop improvising completely because of the same painful sexist experience improv team after improv team. Our female improvisors need and deserve more. There’s only so many times we will put up with this, before it becomes completely masochistic and self-destructive. Why do it?

Much like colleges who preach affirmative action, many women and people of color want to make sure the college of their choosing is not just seeking a rainbow of students, but can actually support their specific needs and unique perspectives key to their gender and racial identity. Being a female is more then your physical attributes, it’s a social and emotional experience that is different then a male’s.

Male dominated improv groups wanting more women representation, please head my words. If you want gender equality in your improv group, you must be willing to play and open up to a female’s style in performance and rehearsal

A few tips to playing with women:

• Make yourself emotionally accessible and respond emotionally
• Improvise female content in scenes
• Take accountability for your sexism when called on it and Apologize
• Take part in trust building or getting to know you exercises that may not require alcohol or drugs- We females usually need authentic connection for real trust to be built
• Be sensitive to our “baggage” with past male improvisors who have caused us to put our walls up. It’s gonna take us some time to see that you are not just another improv dude who wants a hot chick on your team
• Take Your Time in scenes, and allow space for a woman to speak, move, or jump into a scene
• Change up your performance structures to allow for more physically oriented or relationship-based scene work
• Play with real props: Women often go to relationship first and space object work can be a big challenge for them. Lessen the burden by playing with real props a few rehearsals if your goal is to have all objects mimed.
• Bring in a female director/coach for a rehearsal or two if your usual one is male. This will allow your women to feel further valued when a female is in the power position.
• Do a rehearsal or show where all the guys play women and all the gals play men. Then talk about it. Really talk about it. Was it realistic? How can gender exist on a spectrum? Give each other feedback. This exercise allows you to actually see what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes, and there is no guessing which gender the person is. The exercise has already been set up.

The gals from Salt and Pepa said it best! Lyrics below…

You say it loud and I heard you.
Never tried to hurt you
Some say I’m old fashioned
I like to take my time
do it slow
you know with the flow
dont try and rush it
Fight it like a force and let nature take its course
get to know each other
be my friend not just my lover
Love my mind not just my body baby

Please understand the way I feel
I must have trust or there’s no deal
my emotions aint to be played with or given free
I appreciate greatly the way you tolerated me
Sometimes I do act flakey wouldn’t blame you if you hate me
you put up with my butt when I wouldn’t give it up
yeah I know that really sucks but if you wait a while
I’ll Make it up

Do you really want me baby?
Let me know.
Cuz if you really like me I suggest you tell me so
Aint got no times for silly games, that ain’t even my game
Cuz I may be the kinda “GAL” you like

About Femprovisor
Femprovisor = Jill Eickmann, the founder and Artistic Director of Leela, San Francisco's premier long-form improvisational theatre company and training center. She also serves as an Associate Producer for the San Francisco Improv Festival.