Friday, 6 March 2015

A Time to Say NO

I realize this post is not just about improv. I am using what I know and what I do day to day to write it.

Like in everything we do there are people that take advantage of power. They use their position to get what they want and not always in a good way. In a drive for success we find ourselves putting up with certain things or not telling people to leave us alone in fear that we will burn bridges. This is especially true when we are taught and programmed in improv to say “yes” and to be over accepting of others and our partners. I guess this is why this makes me especially mad. I feel like I have been teaching the “YES AND” ideals and then sending people out to be groped without the proper tools to protect themselves.

I have also heard and seen situations where newer improvisers who were not completely comfortable or confident on stage end up going along with awful scenes or ideas because they were scared and not present enough to realize what was happening right in front of them. Nerves make us miss things and can leave us in bad situations.

If someone makes you feel uncomfortable on or off stage you have the right to say $#@& off. This seems so straight forward but often in this art form that teaches saying yes and the fear of being ridiculed by our peers we stay silent and put up with it. Sexual harassment and bullying seems to be something that affects a ton of improvisers in all communities but is rarely spoken about. There seems to be a quiet murmur in the bars and back rooms but not openly talked about. These inappropriate acts are being committed by people in power positions as well as unexperienced improvisers that don’t have control. It’s also happening because some people are just plain old assholes. Maybe this will turn into a rant but I am tired of hearing about this happening. I guess I would hope I have a little bit of power to prevent this when I am aware of it.

Regularly in the pub talking to performers from my group and others, I hear stories about being physically intimidated or sexually harassed on and off stage. This can be such a tricky situation because no one wants to ruin a show by calling someone a pervert in front of an audience. So they walk off stage after the scene or show feeling awful and helpless to stop the bullying or harassment. The usual response is to grin and bear it. As my network grew, I started to see and hear about more times when people were made to feel uncomfortable and even sexually harassed. When I ask them what they did I hear the same answers over and over. They did nothing in fear of what would happen if they did say something. I have even had people tell me that they didn’t want to make ME upset when someone was making them uncomfortable during a workshop or after………

All I could say was “just because we aren’t in the workshop room anymore and are at the pub does not give someone the right to be an asshole.” I want our community to feel safe no matter where we are. I am not really too sure what I expected to get out of this post but I wanted to say that there is never a time where you should allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. In your gut you know when something doesn’t feel right. I hope we start to find a voice so that we can speak up when someone isn’t treating us with respect no matter where or when it happens.

Why do people act like dicks sometimes? Well some are nervous and out of control. Just not able to see how they are affecting others on stage. Some use power to take advantage of people. Some are angry and scared. Some think improv workshops and shows are a way to pick up people. Some are just assholes. I have no problem pointing out to those that may just be unaware of themselves. When they are nervous they sometimes don’t realize their own strength or presence. They don’t realize they may be making those around them uncomfortable.

How do we deal with this sort of situation or these certain types of people? I think we as a community need to take a stand when we are aware of this happening. We need to help each other out and stop being silent in fear of banishment. Directors need to give strong performance tools so people know when things aren’t right and when it is okay to say no on stage. We need to learn to trust our gut and leave situations that make us uncomfortable. We need to learn how to be heard and expect respect.

You as an individual performer can also start to fill your tool belt with ways to deal with these situations. First say “NO” when you need to. Sometimes this is all it takes to let someone know to leave you alone. Find strength in your scenes and partners then protect them. I have talked about this in other posts.

 From: Contradictions #4 post.

       "Say yes and yet know when to say no.”

What do we do if someone comes in with a blind side offer or one that makes no sense at all with what our scene is about? I can sometimes be an aggressive performer when playing with asshole improvisers. I say it’s because I’m old and grumpy which I think is partially true. I also believe that I am very protective and like to take care of my scene and partner. I like to put my work in and hate to see it get plowed over by someone not paying attention, coming in with nothing to offer, or when someone is being a show boat. So I protect it by not always saying yes. Sometimes I think improvisers can be too polite and just say yes to whatever crappy offer gets thrown at them. They shouldn’t have to if they have a good foundation and are doing good work. Too easily do we just go with whatever is brought to us even when it makes no sense what so ever.

So we started seeing how we can own and protect our scenes. We hope this doesn’t happen often at our venue, but every once in awhile people come into scenes with nothing at all or aren’t paying attention to what the scene needs. I know I’m guilty of it. So without being a dink on stage we looked at ways to not give up our scene to someone just butting in. We looked at hosting techniques and physical changes as well as leaving the dink on the stage alone to deal with their mess.

Most improvisers felt a rush of satisfaction that they had not ever experienced. They felt good and strong. Not all felt positively, however, some actually felt bad. They felt as if they had done something wrong and rude to their fellow performer. When asked if the audience saw them looking rude or mean, the response was a resounding “NO”! When the improviser that was the dink was asked if they felt betrayed or mistreated, they also said no. So everyone was okay. No one died or was hurt emotionally. We should always be positive and be trying to move things forward, but that doesn’t always mean saying yes, despite improvisers being taught to always say “yes, and”. Sometimes we need to realize we are okay without everyone on stage. If we do our work and establish a ton fairly quickly then we don’t need someone plowing through or entering for no reason. You can ask them to leave.

This is a pretty big topic. I feel sometimes we just allow ourselves to be bullied. I am sure we can all think of a time where we felt dirty after a scene. Either because we came on and messed everything all up or that we had someone kill our scene. It was a very exciting and empowering exercise and is not over yet. We can be strong and not come across as an asshole.

Also trust your community and let people know if someone is making things uncomfortable for you. There may be something happening that directors are simply unaware of. It should be handled after that. It may come down to a certain someone being asked to leave and not come back. I have definitely had to do this more than once. Sometimes a stern talking to is all it takes but not always. Lastly if you aren’t finding help where you need it, then perhaps you will need to look for another group. There is a ton of improv companies out there. I think you should let people know why you are leaving so that they understand if the acceptance of this behavior continues then they will lose more players. Improviser’s confidence and strength come from playing in a safe fun environment. That’s where we do our best.

Now I know this is a post that some might feel is a little over the top and perhaps for some seem unnecessary, but I really am tired of assholes using improv as a way to be all pervy and shitty to other humans. Anyway, I ranted and feel like I said my piece. You want to ever really see me fired up just talk to me about this topic at the pub!