My most recent post about sexism in improv kind of took off. It caused strong reactions in the community and was met with a lot of disbelief. Last night it was shared on reddit, which terrified me because much like a grandma with a new iPhone, the site is terrifyingly foreign to me and I’m not quite sure of its capabilities. But like a moth, I’m curious and fly towards a fire that I’m sure will kill me. I landed in the comments section of the reposting of my post.
After I published a controversial opinion piece last year, I set a rule against commenting on my own writing. It’s just a dark, dark hole that ends in trolls telling you that you should kill yourself. It took every piece of self control to not comment on this piece. But a recent reddit comment was too good to resist and is what fueled this post. A user, after a well worded paragraph, ended his comment with this:
"But despite being sensitive to this business, I have to own that I’ve been the problematic one in scenes before".
YES. To whoever this is, I like you a lot.
Because I have been that person before as well.
Whenever we read something that disturbs us, our natural reaction is to push the blame onto someone and act like we would never do what they did. In this case, many people were quick to blame my teacher and classmates who didn’t speak up. Should they have? Of course. But we can’t pretend that we’ve never been a bystander to hurtful improv and blaming someone is going to make a universal problem singular. We have to look inward.
I’ve been in scenes that I should have stopped. I’ve been in auditions where I should never have let my fear of causing an awkward environment overtake my moral beliefs. And I am sure that I have unknowingly caused someone else pain because I thought we were all having fun, right?
We can’t solve a problem without looking at ourselves. I remember a scene that I was in during one of my first shows. My teammate was being racist and depiciting a person of color using awful stereotypes. My solution was to try to change the subject and drop jokes, but I should have edited within. Someone on my team should have edited the scene. We should have confronted this person after the show. Instead, the scene carried on for too long, the people in the back line were clearly uncomfortable and then we just never talked about it. We were all bystanders and we were all in the wrong.
We have to look inward instead of casting the blame onto someone else.
Another comment read:
"I read this and thought about how I’ve never seen something like this in my (relatively short) time improvising, and felt thankful for that."
But, the truth of it is, I probably have, and just didn’t notice.
Until we start speaking up when we’re hurt, or when we’re witnessing someone being hurt, it will continue to go unnoticed.
So my challenge is this — instead of being shocked, let’s all take a look at ourselves and ask what we could do to minimize the hurt we cause (even as a bystander) in this incredibly loving community and art form. Speak up about being hurt, or causing harm to others.
Improvise with kindness and awareness.
Ask yourself what you could do to combat harmful improv. Let’s all embody the words we preach… I promise that from here on out, I will.
Live - Laugh - Love.
As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”
Thank you for reading.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, share your experiences in the comments section below.
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