I recently spoke on a panel on Women in Improvisation at Improvaganza- Hawaii festival of improv along with two other improv movers/shakers, Shaun Landry (Oui Be Negroes, Essence Improv/ Los Angeles) and Kristen Lucas (Pin-up Squirrels/ NYC). As the panel came to a close, each speaker was asked by moderator , Kimee Balmilero for one final message regarding this topic. I responded with, “Be the Change.” Although a seemingly cliche phrase, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a constant mantra for me.
Early in my improv career, I experienced much frustration around sexism and misogyny in the improv community. While expressing my frustrations to my classmates and teachers, I often experienced denial from others that these events were actually occurring. Many told me to buck up and quit complaining. As frustrating as those times were, I am now so grateful for these experiences, as they motivated me to take the steps needed for change. I’m also grateful for my fellow improvisors who LISTENED & BELIEVED my stories of gender inequality in the improv community, and SUPPORTED me in advocating for change.
I soon realized that in order for the change I desired to occur, I needed to ignite this change.
I make it my daily mission to create an improv community which embraces inclusivity, positivity and love for human beings of all walks of life- a compassionate playground. As a director and producer, I take steps to create gender parity in our faculty, student population, and performance ensembles. I also take note when this doesn’t occur- and ask why is this not occurring, and what steps need to be taken to create a more inclusive community. I express my truth to other teachers, directors, producers, and performers when I feel a lesson, improv move, or decision is motivated by fear, or privilege/power, rather than mutual respect and LOVE for all human beings. As the training center director for Leela, I focus our curriculum on listening early in an improvisor’s education. I believe listening skills make for compassionate, kind, empathic, and aware improvisors/human beings. I start all my classes and rehearsals in meditation, supporting improvisors to connect and listen to their own breath, physical sensations, and feelings first, and then connect compassionately with others, through gentle eye contact. For me, the best improvisors are BRAVE and bravery to me means “to thine own self be true.”
Finally, I perform. I soon realized that like the MissRepresentation project’s motto- “You can’t be what you can’t see” I needed to show women and girls through my improvised performances the change I wanted to see in improvisational theatre. I bring my personal truths into my performances and play with others from a place of mutual respect and appreciation. I hug my fellow improvisors before and after shows and discuss with others my passion that improv is a holistic art form that brings people together. I thank the audience for witnessing and being an integral collaborator in the show. I speak to others kindly and compassionately and get curious about who they are as human beings. I make sure to HAVE FUN. All these action steps bring about change and create a positive inclusive space for people of all walks of life to play.
What is the change you desire in the improvisation community and how do you plan to BE THE CHANGE? Comment your answer below and start rippling out community!!!