This is the first article of a series IMPROV PRACTICE. It’s a result of my conversations with my improv students. We talk a lot, and they have many questions, doubts, ideas that they want to share. It doesn’t matter if they are improv nerds, or you just joined the class, the questions touch technical aspects, philosophy and art. I’m very glad, that they share them with me. And what I can do in return, is to share my thoughts. It’s not The Truth. It’s my truth, that I’ve been working on, and discovering, and it’s a process – in some time I may tell you something different. Because it evolves. Take whatever you find important. Share what you find important and exciting. There are lots of questions, but yesterday something very important appeared, and I cannot postpone it, so it will be the number one.
“What to do, when I play a scene with someone, and he/she starts to cross the line what I find comfortable? Like, playing my boyfriend, guy grabs my ass?”
How you’ll be treated starts with how will you let others treat you, in most cases – I hope you will never meet a predator on your way, crossing this line. When you are in improv group, you all know other boundaries, and you treat each other with respect – and if you don’t, RUN for your life! It may happen, that someone will cross the line and immediately step back, if you let him/her know. It may happen, that you play with a stranger in a jam, or at the workshop. And he/she has no bad intensions, kissing your neck. Maybe he/she wants to show off, to shock, or thinks it’s cool. Maybe you also think it’s cool, than it’s cool, have fun. But you DON’T HAVE TO think it’s cool. Sometimes even the audience may think it’s cool and shout “kiss him!”. There was this situation during the Young Improv show and girl got scared, but the guy was caring enough to just turn back to the audience and fake a kiss. A few years ago I had a situation at the workshop with Canadians, that I was participating. I played a scene with a man, who I’ve never met before. I guess we were playing a couple. He was strong, and he lifted me up, his hands were all over me, and he put me on the ground with him on the top of me. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but looked wrong. I was ready to slap him in the face, if he cross the line. It was a short scene – but you see, I still remember it after all those years. Canadians were disturbed and asked if we were together in one group and when I said I don’t know him, they asked me in private, should they ask him to leave. And during the rest of the festival, they were keeping eyes on him. They took care of me more thay it was needed, and this is also something that I remember and I do the same with my students.
But what can you do, when someone grabs you, because you are playing a date, a marriage or whatever that could “justify the character’s behaviour”? My answer is NOTHING JUSTIFIES A BEHAVIOUR THAT MAKES YOU FEEL ABUSED. And really, there are so many situations in life, when we force ourselves to do something we don’t want to do, that improv is the last place on earth to do that. Fuck that!
Lately I’ve read words by a women from Chicago, who told the story of her worst improv scene after years. And imagine, it was a scene with guys, where they made her “unconscious drunk girl at the party”, and those boys played… a RAPE ON HER. Firstly, who ON EARTH would find rape FUNNY? And secondly, she was a beginning improviser and she, during being mentally raped, did’t feel that she could stop the scene. Yes and, right? She decided to wait untill it ends, just a minute and everybody will forget. But she didn’t forget. And those guys should never forget and be ashamed till the end of their days.
Why did that happen? Apperantly, those guys were idiots, and neither the host, nor improvisers, nor the audience stopped it. And the girl didn’t stop, because she was afraid to stop the scene – what would people think? That she’s a bad improviser? That she cannot commit to the scene? Do you see the absurd of this situation?
No. No, and no. You don’t have to do anything. You’re doing improv, because it excites you, you have fun. No one has the right to make you do anything that makes you feel abused. If your “husband” in a scene wants to kiss and you don’t want to, give him a clear signal. Improvisers are usually sensitive and inteligent people, they normally get it. You can also make a choice as your character and tell him sweetly, that you’re not in a mood today. Or just push him away. If he doesn’t get the message through the character, tell him as you, to leave you alone, or whatever you find accurate while feeling unsafe/angry/frightened. If he/she is still forsing, forgive me, but fuck the character and the scene, no scene is worth feeling abused and dirty for years. You can always, ALWAYS just stop the scene. As my film directing profesor said – “it’s just art, it’s not a heart surgery”. It’s theatre. Stage. Illusion.
And if someone gets angry at you, because you stopped the scene of a rape, or whatever else… you will know for the future who to avoid. And remember – when you are on the side and you see a scene like that, you are RESPONSIBLE for what is going on stage. When someone is abused on stage, and you don’t react, it is also your fault. Always feel responsible for the people on stage. As they are responsible for you.
Have you ever experienced abuse on stage?