Bicultural | brewing improv ideas

Given Mithra’s recent Diversity Experiment hangout last week, I am sharing a slice of what I have thought about diversity and improv, as a precursor to my evolving thoughts on colorized improv.

In April 2015, I sent to a few friends, who also are improvisors, a series of Facebook messages – stream-of-consciousness typing about my (then) idea of bicultural improv. It was somewhat food-for-thought. Since then, a few friends have responded. I met with one of them to discuss our perspectives about the context of diversity, ethnicity, race, and gender.

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From friend Judy’s Debut in the 1980s. A few of us who were part of her Court. My brother was her Escort.

A little about me. I consider myself bicultural. Even though I look Chinese and my last name is “Mexican” (as exclaimed by a college boyfriend who (seriously) thought Filipino was a mix of Chinese and Mexican), I am Filipino-American. I was born in the United States (in the south) to Filipino parents – the familiar Filipino background of a father in the Navy and a mother who was a nurse.

I am a single, 51 years old, cis female without children or pets living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am an Auntie to my younger brother’s son and daughter – both in high school. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended public school until my high school years at a co-ed Catholic High School.

If my professional history matters to you, let me know why. I am on LinkedIn – an engineer by education, an business owner by choice, and a proponent of the environment and energy sector. I consider myself hard-working, accountable, fair, and forthright. I am short and overweight. I own shoes and books – many of them.

This post is a slightly edited version (for readability) of my five part Facebook messages –

Background Ah-Ha Moment
Idea
Fuzzy Two-Fold Objective
Short Version
Long Version

Idea Brewing

panda_teacherI’ve mentioned to you all an improv idea that has been brewing in my head – something that has cultural/racial elements. Bicultural bent of sorts. And as I have been thinking about it, I like the idea more and more … yet I’m sure you all would have ideas.

I’m not in a rush … and in fact, anyone can start doing the idea even now in your own improv – but will be great to jam this idea at some point.

(Part 0) Background Ah-Ha Moment

I saw a FB improv event several months ago for a show in L.A. that was for something like Brown and Yellow … the players are of “brown or yellow” races.

panda_teacherI don’t know what kind of improv, but it got me to thinking. While I am not thinking of a “People of Color” (POC) jam, I have wondered what improv would look like with scenes that may be relate-able to POC.

I don’t often see scenes that have cultural context – which can be settings where characters play out a Filipino debutante ball, picking out a quinceanera dress, inter-racial dating, first generation graduating from college, immigrant family members, etc.

I have started making some character choices based on some cultural context, and I have enjoyed it – sometimes challenging (in a good way).

I have naively thought things like cultural, ethnic, race wouldn’t matter, but there is something that feels different and fun and … just pulling characters that have traits like friends, family, and colleagues that inform my point of view and familiar cultural-setting environments can become really interesting … or even near/distant characters of myself.

Maybe this is kind of solo-y … improv-y … sketch-y … improv to sketch. It’s not intended to be that – but I think this Bicultural Bent is like just focusing on what we know and making strong moves in 3 areas –

… character choice … point of view … top of one’s intelligence …

– and the bicultural experience may be interesting. For me, it’s just a different feeling, and I feel like I’m learning something about myself toward playing at the “top of my intelligence”, as well as being able to pull point of view faster, for whatever reason

By the way, this is not a “down with whitey” thing. It’s more of a a broadening of the type of scenes, relationships, environments, etc. that we could do as an improvisor.

(Part 1) Idea

Just POC improvisors with scenes that are directly or indirectly tied to bicultural experiences with character choices that consider ethnicity and race and play to top of one’s intelligence.

panda_teacherHow the scenes come about … I don’t know yet.

–  Maybe we are doing “premise pulls” from our own mini-monologues. (the Armando-esque-ish)
– Maybe montage-ey. (the improv jam-ish)
– Maybe living room-y. (The Pedestrian-ish)
– Maybe we’re reading from cultural text (The Letters-ish)
– Maybe we are doing a character paint (Harold-esque opening)

Also … this doesn’t mean that if someone chose a Filipino debutante ball, everyone in the scene if Filipino – it just means the environment or setting or whatever is that.

Is this making sense?

Thoughts to add to Part 1?

(Part 2) Fuzzy Two-Fold Objective

panda_teacher1.  For us as the performers, hitting hard the basics of character and point of view

2.  For a set, what the audience sees – bringing scenes and/or dialogues that are a slice of cultural context, something new

(Part 3) Short Version

See Part 1, “IDEA” with how the scenes may come about.

(Part 4) Long Version

To be discovered . . . your input, thoughts.

panda_teacherIt may sound heady, but it’s not intended to be so.

I was telling a friend this afternoon . . . it may be as simple as me creating a character based on my Godmother (who is Filipino) sitting at a slot machine at Cache Creek.

I could do this anyway, now, and I likely will – but I feel like if I do something like this among other improvisors also moving toward scenes that support a cultural (or ethnic or racial) context of sorts, there could be some really interesting discovery and clever interactions that are fresh.

… so maybe it’s kind of like sketch. i don’t know …

but that’s it for now.

(I need to go home, sleep, and not sit next to this guy in this Los Gatos coffee shop who is mouth-breathing because he has a MAJOR COLD!)

Thanks for entertaining this.

What are your thoughts about bicultural improv? What do you relate to or not relate to?

 

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Experiment | diversity, dialogue, perspectives

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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.

Discussion Landscape

Each of us shared and exchanged our perspectives on the following, which Mithra posed as the initial landscape of our discussion –

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    With my friend, Mithra, during what would be our first (of five) THUNDERDOME set (over here, photos). (Photo credit: Michael J. Astrauskas, Photographer)

    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

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1985 Pilipino American Alliance Cultural Night, U.C. Berkeley, California. Philippine Folk Dance: Sayaw Sa Bangko.

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

12045682_973657355991100_1799270538515116755_oI have to remind myself before a set that I have the choice to create characters and settings with a cultural context.
– (me)

  • 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.

10268517_10155005484760084_8503074850356984447_nWith 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.

What are your thoughts about this initial, informal Diversity Experiment hangout? What do you relate to or not relate to?

Bell | more colorized inspiration

10671277_10153260358896273_143343646545074407_nThis past Saturday, August 15, my friends – Debbie, Pat, Janice – and I enjoyed an evening in Berkeley, which included attending Home by 10 with W. Kamau Bell (on Twitter, web) at The Marsh. Nice venue. The emcee was Phil Surkis (on Twitter, web), and the guest comedian was Nato Green (on Twitter, web). All three of them – What a treat!

And on Monday, August 17, one of my  improv troupes, Calhoun (on Facebook), one of the Harold House Teams of Endgames Improv (on Twitter, web), had our weekly rehearsal with our Coach, Chris Blair (with Endgames Improv, on Facebook web series Tragedy Club).

This post is among other posts about my meandering, think-out-loud thoughts, as I continue to chip away at Colorized Improv.* There is no call-to-action, no “button” for this endeavor. I am just sharing. And I suppose it is also about sharing the fun photo with W. Kamau Bell. SQUEE!

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L – R: Janice, Debbie, W. Kamau, Shirley (because we are on a first name basis?). Photo credit: Pat

tweet_aug15_bellSimple Pleasures Unrelated

Bell. The first June/July run of Home by 10 sold out very quickly. I learned of the extended show while I was in Chicago, so I jumped on the tickets for the weekend after my return to California. And on the day of the show, I tweeted my excitement about seeing the show. The simple pleasure of a “favorite” from Bell made my Saturday afternoon. SQUEE!

Calhoun. Improv rehearsal with Calhoun was an extra treat. Short version: We created scenes that “Yes, and … -ed” the shit out of our own character choice. (This is briefly explained below.) I very much enjoyed it. SQUEE!

Evolving Colorized Improv

As mentioned in the tweet, I have been evolving my idea of Colorized Improv, recently described over here. Here is how I described it a little over a month ago –

Colorized Improv is where improvisors can, should, and will be mindful that improv is a form of creative expression – among players and for an audience. As part of colorized improv, each of us intelligently creates characters, environments, and scenes that take care of one’s self and of each other. Each person starts from one’s own understanding of being one’s self and of expressing emotions and behaviors that are personally familiar.

Home by 10. I enjoyed Surkis, Green, and Bell at Home by 10. Green and Bell both shared their observations and perspectives of their children. In particular, there was an idea of children’s seemingly immediate and unconditional acceptance of new information, comparable to a “software update” of existing information. This was entertaining to hear, particularly given the simplicity of an unbiased acceptance of what one has been told. As adults, I would say new information does get filtered. While we may accept new information, whether we agree with it is shaped by our experiences. Younger children – it is fair to say they generally have less life experience.

“Yes” and “Yes, and …” This has made me revisit (just a little bit) the “Yes, and …” in improv. The software update reminds me of “Yes”. Some may say it is about acceptance, while others may say it is about agreement, and while even others may say it is an option if you do either of those. This also made me think about how Colorized Improv may influence others (both players and audience members) to think about their own personal experiences of acceptance, agreement, indifference, and even denial.

I know there is more to this thought process of how colorized improv may influence others, but I will rest it for now.

Character Choices: Stick to Your Shit

While there are many ways to create and express characters, there are often two approaches talked about when playing out one’s character at the top of scene – having a character who not only takes care of one’s self but also takes care of the scene partner or having a character who takes care of one’s self. This can thought of as “Yes, and … -ing” your partner, or this can be thought of as “Yes, and … -ing” yourself, respectively. In both cases, one’s character would have a specific point of view and set of behaviors. How one’s emotions and reactions to one’s scene partner would differ. And in the latter case, one takes care of one’s self, sticking to yo shit! This is the series of exercises we (in Calhoun) did on Monday.

This resonated with me, and I really appreciate our coach, Chris, for having us do reps on this exercise. Moreover, as I was driving home, I feel like this is part of the yet-to-be-discovered-reason that is part of creating characters for Colorized Improv. While this does not mean to deny a scene partner’s offer or endowment, it does mean (at least for me) to honor and commit to one’s bold choice character, digging deep into that character, and hitting it hard in the scene to discover what emerges.

What characters have I yet-to-discover that contributes to the context of colorized improv?

 *By the way, Colorized Improv is not about having
a cast of non-white players. More on that.