It doesn’t even occur to me …
– an observation
Last Friday evening, September 25, four of us – Johnathan, Amalia, Mithra, and I met to – “… talk about cultural diversity in improv” – a bit of a spur-of-the-moment Friday night hangout sparked by my friend, Mithra (also Guam improv team member). She called this hangout a Diversity Experiment.
NEXT STEP: Mithra is taking the lead in providing a regular meeting time and place, so stay tuned.
- Please feel free to leave a comment if you are interested in this topic.
There were four of us; several other friends (unable to attend the Friday hangout) expressed interest in this topic and in meeting up in the future – which will happen. Three reasons for why I joined this hangout include seeing how this would contribute to my evolving thoughts on and creating of colorized improv, learning others’ perspectives, and supporting my friend’s interests.
About this post. This post is an overview of a few topics, rather than specific details, that we touched upon about our personal experience (e.g., observations, opinions, ideas) – briefly or at length – during the evening.
Each of us shared and exchanged our perspectives on the following, which Mithra posed as the initial landscape of our discussion –
does it even matter or make a difference about how we feel about improv
- how you feel about bringing in your cultural twist to improv
- trying out a format idea I [Mithra] have in mind to help us educate each other about cultural differences
- bringing together improvisers of different ethnic backgrounds
- in the future, exploring other diversity (e.g., religious, gender, age, income, etc.)
– and our landscape of our discussion broadened to other areas and deepened in the initial topics posed.
As a Member of a Diverse Community
With regards to our own self-identity and diversity, we shared the following:
- our ethnic and racial background
- our upbringing (e.g., country of birth, cultural identity, family setting)
- some recent personal experiences – positive, negative – of expressing our diversity whether in improv, the workplace, or other communities
- other SF Bay Area performance-related communities that focus on or represent diversity
For the most part, we focused on our cultural and ethnic diversity. Other topics of diversity – gender, age, education, religious, and race – also came up. Part of this conversation contributed to and informed our conversation about what diversity means to each of us in our improv community(ies).
As an Improvisor
With regards to our improv performances, classes, and workshops, we shared the following:
- our incorporating (or not incorporating) of our own sense of diversity into our improv and other forms of expressions
- our discovering of one’s “self” on-stage, choosing to access our cultural experience
I have to remind myself before a set that I have the choice to create characters and settings with a cultural context.
- our on-stage (and in-class) experience – positive, negative, indifferent – when we have integrated diversity topics, characteristics, and/or settings as part of our scene work
- our perspectives of creative expression formats – improv, storytelling, narratives, sketch, monologues, writing – to express our personal cultural experience
- our experience of being around less women (in classes) as we have progressed through an improv curriculum
- what does it mean to “play honestly” and “play to the top of your intelligence” with cultural diversity
- what responsibility does a scene partner have when unexpectedly faced with topic/element of diversity in a scene
We also talked about some of the nitty-gritty of improv scene work – creating characters, initiating scenes, defining environments, having a point of view, etc. And as mentioned about my interest, I shared about my evolving perspective of colorized improv.
Shared Ah-Ha Moment
One of our shared ah-ha moments is that we all agreed that as part of our improv curriculum, we did not have an explicit class or exercise specific to engaging cultural diversity. While each of us have made such choices in our own work, we talked about different ways this can be part of our play and self-training.
For the Improv Community
Our meeting was NOT intended to be about what can an improv organization or theater do about diversity. While comments and questions came up related to the role of a an organization or theater, we expect and believe this would become part of our future discussions.
With regards to how some of our perspectives may play out in the improv community, we talked about the following – from the role of an improvisor, and potentially from the role of an organization or theater –
- create and identify warm-ups and exercises can support integrating cultural diversity in our scene work
- create and identify improv formats and scene constructs that can be used to specifically portray diversity
- discuss the framework of when something is racial and when is something racist (and likewise for other diversity topics)
- identify how diversity can be incorporated into our play – workshops, classes, team dynamics, team composition, etc.
- because some recent discussions of diversity (albeit not just in improv) appear to be about people of color, identify what programs have been (are being) created to encourage diversity. For female-identified improvisors, an example of a program is the Incubator Project (mentioned in this post) that Vagina Jones created
- discuss how is diversity can be represented without sounding entitled and or being a “token” cast member
- accounting for diversity can be objective or subjective, therefore, what are the expectations when talking about creating, increasing, and/or sustaining diversity?
- identify other diversity issues (e.g., religious, gender, etc.)
We acknowledged there are both top-down and bottom-up initiatives that can be pursued. While an organization or theater may pursue diversity issues, our discussions were more specific to our role as improvisors and our growing as an improvisor to include diversity – in our own work, among our communities, etc.