Improvisation, Community, and #MeToo

The past year has gotten us, and rightfully so, thinking about our behavior in the improv community. Improv is a social scene for many and a professional environment for the rest—sometimes it's both for a person. Which means successfully navigating it can be difficult. I doubt many of us set out to make anyone uncomfortable, but we do make mistakes.

I’ve written before about the limitations and pitfalls of improv when it comes to creating a safe atmosphere. Often times, “Yes-And,” the cornerstone of improv, can be abused, misused, or misinterpreted to allow terrible things to happen.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to modify our behavior to ensure we're treating everyone with respect to their space and their bodies. With that in mind, I’d like to share simple to-do's that can help players feel safe and welcome in our communities. We’re not experts, these are just simple little tactics we’ve picked up over the years that we’ve found work both inside and outside of scenes.

  • When addressing groups of people, whether as an audience, a class, or a team in an email, try eliminating "Guys" from your vocabulary and replace it with gender neutral terms for groups, like “Folks” or “Everybody.”
  • Outside of scenes, avoid using pet names like "darling" or "honey" or "sweetheart." We communicate respect by not using a term reserved for a romantic partner.
  • Inside of scenes, ensure that you not limiting yourself to stereotypical labels like wife or girlfriend, or jobs like nurse and secretary. It’s not that women aren't wives or girlfriends and can never play that, it’s more like they are not only wives and girlfriends and should never feel limited to only ever playing that.
  • If you are playing the opposite gender, challenge yourself to not exaggerate behavior into cartoonish versions of femininity or masculinity. Instead, focus on the stronger emotional or character choice you’ve made and commit to playing that.
  • As much as touch can be used to show connection, we should avoid impromptu back-rubs or arms-around-the-shoulder or generally unannounced, surprise touch. Make sure people know you're offering touch—state your intention first and see if they're receptive. Make eye contact and receive confirmation before you make physical contact.
  • Because we don’t have fight choreography in scenes, we should avoid literal, actual violence, or aggressive, out-of-control movement. Don’t pick people up, don’t wrestle or hold them, don’t hit them at full speed. Communicate your movements by being obvious, telegraphing them, or moving slowly and deliberately.
  • Ensure that you have an operating misconduct and harassment policy, and make sure that people can report to an unbiased third party. We’re working on crafting that now, but it is safe to say that we at Superlative do not tolerate sexual misconduct and harassment.

Those are just a few simple things an improviser can do. We at Superlative are committed to ensuring all of our players feel safe when they’re playing with us, and we promise to continually learn new and better ways to create that environment. What tactics have you found work? What lessons can you share? We’d love to hear them.