From the Gender and Identity and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) plenaries to an unexpected kiss on stage at the GII's Maestro last night to everyday empathy in improv (and life), it's important to find out: What is an [improv] ally? How do we become one in the moment [of performance] and how do we remain one off stage?
Amy: It’s a question of perspective: eg. I've been in situations when someone is 'protecting' someone else and that person says: “Oh no, don’t worry! It’s fine.” But it's good to have the conversation.
Mona: There’s good structures in place in a theatre in Minneapolis: outside tutors are handed a piece of paper with a code of conduct that they then read out; the jams have jam captains that say beforehand to the players: “It’s my job to protect you: I will step in if I feel it needs resetting.”
Sarah: Impro is always the world coming in. Inevitably you’re always doing the work – are you doing it well? Are you doing it responsibly? You can’t not be political; you have to acknowledge that.
Amy: There’s always going to be a conflict between spontaneity and doing the right thing.
Patricia: Self-awareness needs to be cultivated. YOU need to understand your own preconceptions and triggers, etc. 2. Playing like an ally isn’t just about taking sides. Be generous! Have direct and honest conversations that don’t simply come from a place of ‘otherness’.
Stephen: This is all reflective of the challenge of diversity. On the one hand it’s exciting because we’re more likely to surprise each other with unexpected offers but it’s challenging because we can fall into majority viewpoints. Dominant narratives can prevail. Eg. [if you bring a character who’s] living with parents in your thirties, it might be assumed [by a scene partner] that they’re a loser. But then that means that one might also assume that they don’t have, for instance, magical powers. Which is limiting and less fun.
Minder: I live with my parents! It’s absolutely brilliant!
Mona: I’ve been researching more leftfield sources such as YouTube videos by people who won’t have written any books yet [rather than simply using the old guard as resources].
Moriah: There are blogs and podcasts.
ACTION: ALL : put on a GDrive doc any links that are useful to be an ally.
Phelim: This symposium’s theme is Awareness. Yes, And should be followed by another ‘Yes’. There’s an authenticity: the ‘yes, and’ must include a ‘yes’ to our own impulses. It’s an ongoing micro-conversation. Feldenkrais Method of ‘awareness through movement’ is a positive. I think what we’ll discover [if we raise our awareness] is that scenes become more interesting and exciting. There’ll be a greater truth.
Mona: A lot is to do with audience reactions. Audiences need to know that you are safe. What makes good improv is that people are making it up, taking care of each other.
Moriah: The kiss in last night’s Maestro meant witnessing the AUDIENCE playing an ally. It was the audience who made the call. It was an audience of improvisers, too – they made it clear they had [the female player’s] back.
Vic: I was totally fine during and after that moment but it was a surprise. But I’m an older person who’s worked through life traumas and who is an experienced improviser. What I did say afterwards to my scene partner was: do always check in properly with that person after – because handling it in the moment and being affected by it afterwards are separate issues. What was missing was the check-in beforehand, where we say what our personal boundaries are (eg. “I don’t mind kissing but don’t touch my arse” or “no touching my face or hair but you can pick me up” etc.) But no-one in that company left this out maliciously – we were all just tired and busy and in the moment. I also think that anyone could have started that check-in – and if any player felt very strongly about a particular boundary, they would have done so. My scene partner did absolutely check in with me afterwards. I felt very well looked after in that company. Patti says that it's not just on the facilitator or director: each and every player needs to do the work on themselves as well as assume a safe environment: people need to be in charge of their own sh*t. She also said that some teachers are creating generations of players who have been trained to be obedient and that this isn't helpful.
?: Not everyone knows what their 'sh*t' is until it is challenged or highlighted.
Minder: I was in a scene that was uncomfortable where the facilitator said the audience made the judgement call / was disapproving, and since that did the job, there was no need to speak to the actor afterwards.
Sarah: Panels are crucial in terms of ally-ship: some people these days say that they categorically won’t be part of a panel if there isn’t diversity on that panel.
Patricia: As a woman, we are conditioned to be polite. Being polite is so ingrained in us that it’s considered more important than our own personal safety. People need to do their research and understand what that feels like.
Re. panel talks: the systemic barriers that prevent minorities / the marginalised from being on a panel, eg. health, transport, etc. need to be addressed and made less difficult.
Phelim (Improbable): There is the culture and status of academia and that can be alienating. For Improbable, there’s a trade-off: we need the funding and the space in order to put on the work. The compromise, for us, is to put on two days of highly structured, academic frameworks in order to be able to have two days of Open Space.
Joel Veenstra: We aren’t perfect in the USA, but here at GII there are 18 countries represented by the delegates, which is positive.
Mona: Allies might have more energy and be generous [and therefore can step in and advocate more easily than it all being on the marginalised person].
Phelim: You can’t destroy an idea; you can only replace it with another. We might all get more done, conversely, if we slow down and have some de-escalation strategies. We need to slow down and be awake and aware about our potential allies. Connect.
Minder: Being aware of tokenism [and labelling] is important. Just because you’re a white male, doesn’t automatically mean that you’re ‘good’ and just because you’re a person of colour, doesn’t mean you aren’t prepared to, say, take up space.
Vic: This is the theory Albert Bandura created: self-efficacy and agency. Self-efficacy is the feeling of whether or not we are capable of doing something, not our actual competency level. And we can feel 'less capable' just as much as 'more capable'.
Phelim: I feel that PLAY is the key. Play is perhaps the ultimate barometer for safety. Even children playing in a war zone have developed such a strong sense of self-power that they will play as they please. There is a role that’s taken on: the role of ‘the improviser who goes too far’. But we need to be sophisticated enough to be really awake, aware, connected.
Nathan: Offers need to be communicated so much more than if it were scripted. It’s another level.
Roddy Maude-Roxby: We realised by the late days of Theatre Machine that we didn’t need to have the rows off stage after the show – we could have them right there on stage [and be truly authentic players].
Phelim: it’s at the edges, when playing at the edges (eg. like with the on-stage kiss) that people lose their awareness. [The player in the show who initiated the kiss] threw himself over – he threw himself over the edge. BUT: You have to play around [the action’s] edges. That’s where [the magic] happens. It’s about self-power; as a player I need to know what my sense of self-power should be. Should there be ‘safe words’ in impro? Is that a good idea?
Phelim: There was a show called The Still where we had [non-improvisers] up on stage as part of the action. One time, Lee Simpson checked in with such a person when a kiss was impending in the scene they were playing. He clearly stepped out of his character and said, as himself, to both his scene partner and the audience: “Can I kiss you?”. The player said “Yes” - he made absolutely sure with both the the actor and the audience - and then he stepped back in and kissed them in character. It was brilliant. He made sure that everyone was comfortable and came with him.
Vic: It takes a lot of experience to be able to handle that and play it out.
Phelim: this is what’s good about Guerilla Theatre: players train to be directors and everyone gets to see the possibilities from all sides.
Phelim: There was an example of a woman during a Life Game who got us to play her stepfather. In these scenes, if the action is accepted by the person about whom the ‘real-life story’ is about, that person will hit a bell. If they don’t want it to continue, they honk a horn. This woman had us play out incredibly violent scenes with her stepfather throwing pots and pans and screaming at the player playing her. There was the worst swearing you’ve ever heard. It was so violent. Yet she continued to hit the bell and we said, “Are you SURE you want to see this? Are you sure?” And she kept saying, “Yes! He was much worse than this!” And because she approved, the audience could come along with and it was electrifying. So she was moderating it. The scene became more than real – it became theatrical.

The conversation ended here but continued with Phelim, Blessin, Stephen, Minder, Roddy Maude-Roxby and Ed Greenberg.
There is a G-Drive document with further notes and resources on it circulated to all who attended this Open Space.
If you wish to be added to it, please email [email protected].