"How do you structure your classes when you have students with disabilities? I have one student with Cerebral Palsy and in a wheelchair, When she would come to class I would avoid group physical warm ups and group games. How would suggest I handle this?"
My favorite thing about the art of improvisation is that it asks me to bring all of myself to the work that I do.
If “truth in comedy” is our goal, then as teachers and coaches it is our responsibility to create safe and encouraging spaces that allow for openness.
Good improv requires so much trust in our team mates! Groups who don’t trust each other never make honest discoveries together.
As instructors, it is important that we do all we can to ensure that everyone in our classes feels respected and included -.
Disability is part of our classrooms and theaters whether or not it is visible. So many people live with disabilities (such as autism, dyslexia or brain injury) that are not outwardly apparent. Physical and societal barriers often discourage or prevent of the full participation of individuals with disabilities in comedy. Like so many other marginalized populations, these artists have unique and powerful gifts to share!
The more our theaters and classrooms make an effort to include individuals with diverse perspectives, the richer our art form becomes.
I have Cerebral Palsy and I have been improvising in Chicago for almost four years. In that time, I have attended countless improv classes and workshops, both as a student and an instructor. Living with a (physical) disability, I come to class knowing that most people are more self-conscious than knowledgeable about the things that make me different. That is perfectly alright!
For me, getting past awkwardness and anxiety is usually as simple as having a conversation.
If you are worried that this student may have trouble with an exercise you have planned, it is best not to assume that she won’t be able to participate in her own way. Ask her if she is comfortable with the plans you have made or if she has any suggestions for how the activity can be adapted. The idea of asking these kinds of questions may be intimidating. Because the experience of disability is so varied, there is no way to guess what your student will be comfortable contributing. Many individuals with disabilities have these kinds of conversations on a regular basis and will be grateful that you asked. Her adjustments to the lesson may turn a familiar warm-up into something it has never been before - and that is a beautiful thing! Do your best to invite her into the exercise. Let her be the one to decide how much she can bring to it.
I once auditioned for an improv ensemble and was accepted, but never heard from the director. Later, he told me that he was worried that the form he designed would be “too physical.”
There is nothing as frustrating for me as being told I can’t do something I haven’t tried.
I have a feeling his form would have been much cooler with me in it. My favorite teachers and coaches are always the ones who ask me what my goals are and really challenge me to surprise myself, to push past my habits and defenses and to make discoveries.
It is so important that our community acknowledges that it has neglected to make room for overlooked and marginalized voices.
Improv has been such an unexpected, liberating gift in my life. There is no other art form that can encounter and accept the challenge my body presents to the world in quite the way our art does. I can take the stage as a mermaid, or a centaur, or some rich asshole, and we answer "yes" without question, without hesitation.
Individuals with disabilities deserve the chance to experience this fearless, paradigm shifting "yes."
Live - Laugh - Love.
As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”
Thank you for reading.
Tamara Rozofsky is a writer, performer and public speaker. She is a graduate of the Second City's Sketch Writing and Conservatory programs and is now appearing in her 5b graduation shows at iO Theatre. She has been featured at The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival and Chicago Women’s Funny Fest, and appeared in the original revues “Our Eyes are Down Here”, “16 and Pagan”, "Mutiny on the Short Bus: One Bus Fits All" and “A Box Full of Kittens,” at Gorilla Tango Theatre and The Second City Training Center. She improvises with the teams Fully Functional, Nighttime Girls, Hobo Mouth and The Dewey Decimals She is currently a student at Annoyance Theatre. She can currently be seen with Elias Rios in "Wigs and Bad Accents" at MCL Comedy Theater in Chicago. Saturdays @8pm - BYOB FEBRUARY 13-27. $15 General, $10 Student/Industry
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