Experiment | improv, race, food for thought

thatwasreallyfun210aboundarypushingaswell210a-defaultWhat do you get when you have an idea about bringing one’s culture into improv and an opportunity to do so for not more than 3.5 minutes?

Here is how I took advantage of that opportunity – Yo, Is this Racist or Not Racist? (aka YiTRoNR?)– That’s what I came up with.


Wait what? WHAT!?

My offering was a nod to the podcast, Yo, Is This Racist?, with its precursor and companion blog, Yo, Is This Racist?. The 3.5 minutes included –

  • an improv warm-up staple of Three Lines Scene
  • “flip cards” with racist and not racist to facilitate sharing one’s of opinion and perspective
  • optional audience participation
  • post-show food-for-thought

–  and admittedly, I did not follow my own rules toward the endby doing more than three lines,  however, as an experiment, I was glad to get it out there with the help of friends.

  • The final experimental product – Jump to the section below – “Serving up the Experiment – Yo, Is This Racist or Not Racist?” – to see the 3.5 minutes in action. Skip the rest.
  • Interested in what spurred this idea? – Read on for the details.

And while YiTRoNR was not quite bringing one’s culture into improv, it was in the spectrum and range of exploring and expressing race – social, cultural, and familial – as an improviser and an audience member.

The Idea: Colorized Improv

I have been brewing bicultural improv since earlier this year. Simply stated, my early thoughts were about creating a team that is predominantly composed of people of color, with bicultural experiences from which to draw.

In June, four un-panelists (Chang, Bell, Rodriguez, Mansbach) at a June book fair festival unknowingly reignited my interest in bicultural improv. Since then, my ideas of bicultural improv have been evolving into what I have been calling Colorized Improv, a nod to Jeff Chang’s Who We Be: The Colorization of America for the inspiration.

I have exchanged ideas with friends and colleagues not only in the SF Bay Area but also in Southern California and Chicago. To date, I am collaborating with Radhika Rao on creating and defining the general framework and elements, experimenting with improv formats, and conceiving workshop ideas and performance pieces. (More to come)

sal_shAn Opportunity to Experiment

In late September/early October, there was an opportunity to “showcase” anything for 3.5 minutes. This opportunity? The October installation of The Laboratory, hosted by Salvatore (Sal) Testa. The Laboratory was described as –

The Laboratory is an experimental improv show where 18 teams get 3.5 minutes to do whatever they want with no restrictions. It is going to be weird, and that’s going to be great. A set where everyone is a cat? Possibly. A scene where everyone says one collective sentence, one word at a time? We can only hope. A 3.5 minute of dating game? Probably. This will probably happen. 

(By the way, time permitting, Sal was very generous by letting additional teams (including those  who missed signing up or had an idea on the spot) to perform. Great host and producer!)

Raw Ingredients to Formulate The Idea

j_shThe Laboratory triggered in me the idea to create something that may be under the umbrella of the evolving Colorized Improv. I touched base friend Johnathan, who has shared similar ideas about having more underrepresented improv players, as well as scenes with cultural context. I also shared the idea with friends in Guam Improv. Here are the “raw ingredients” I worked with for creating YiTRoNR.

Improv warm-up staple – Using the improv warm-up exercise – Three Lines Scene – perform scenes that clearly are and are not racist, and perhaps scenes that are not so clearly one way or the other (arguably).

Identify / Flip cards – Guam team member, Ashley, suggested poster boards to call out whether a scene was racist or not racist. From this creative idea came other ideas from other friends for using flip cards to call out racist/not racist scenes: having the improviser self-identify; having one person serve as a kind of referee; having the audience identify; or some combination of the above.

Optional audience participation – Given the Laboratory format and surprise element, one of my friends suggested that audience members could verbally state racist/not racist and/or could use flip cards to do so. Other ideas included having and audience volunteer take part in the three lines scene or having a whistle blown for racist scenes.

Post-Show Food for thought – With 3.5 minutes, I wanted to experiment with improvisers and the audience. This included several ideas: improvisers purposely choosing to create characters or scene initiations that could be identified as racist, not racist, microaggressions, or implicit bias; improvisers performing that are predominantly people of color; audience members reacting to scene creations; and improvisers and audience members considering culture in improv.


Serving up the Experiment – Yo, Is This Racist or Not Racist?

Here is the food-for-thought.

And an award-worthy move at the end? Michael ripping in half one of the racist/not racist poster board!

If you are chewing on this, what ingredients would you keep? What would you change? What ideas come to mind for you – improviser and non-improviser – when watching this?

* The closing scene (beyond three lines)
was from a previously improvised scene
between Johnathan and me. 


2 thoughts on “Experiment | improv, race, food for thought

  1. I enjoyed the experiment and think it’s a good, quick, fun way to have people deal with race. It’s also a good way to figure out what audiences consider as racist. I really like that feedback component of it.


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