How to Smash the Patriarchy with Improv

It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, and the theme of our classes this week. I’m a woman, and a feminist but I somehow still feel I’m not allowed to celebrate – what is that about? Maybe imposter syndrome (which I’ve written about before), maybe over 40 years of some level of only recently discovered internalised misogyny.

The Theme of IWD 24 is #InspireInclusion. So this year I want to be different and do better.  This year we smash the Patriarchy! How? With improv of course 🙂 Here’s 5 simple ways that I believe we can use our artform to make a difference

Play who (and what) the hell you want

I am a 5’ 1” curvy lady. My drama school and agent would have had me believe I could never play the lead in a West End Musical. Now with The Showstoppers I can and do. Of course on some nights I play a comedy walk on, but the point is I am not bound to my casting on the basis of appearance, age or gender. 

A thing I hold very dearly about the school of improv I come from, is that anyone can play anyone or anything regardless of who they are in ‘real life.’ This is very different from any traditional acting and performance disciplines. There’s a huge power in it and I love that we can share it with players and audiences alike.

Watch out for those pesky unconscious endowments

On the flip side, it has been pretty hard drilled into all of us that people do often behave as their outward appearance might suggest and this can creep into our improv without us realising. Do watch out for female players being exclusively cast as wives, mothers and girlfriends. This goes the same for many isms – I’ve known many older improvisers quit a group or community because of being repeatedly endowed as grandma or grandpa. Of course it happens, I don’t want anyone beating themselves up but it’s worth looking out for if it’s becoming a pattern and SMASHING IT.

Flip the script on Gender Stereotypes

I’ll confess something that I realised a little too late in my improv career. When I had chosen to play a male character it was often to fulfil a stereotypically male job or role. When I started to realise I was unconsciously doing this, it shocked the hell out of me. However, it’s not surprising – Research shows that children’s attitudes towards gender are fully formed by the age of seven. So let’s keep doing our bit as improvisers to make sure our characters and our stories are not always falling into these clichéd narratives too.

Gender balance in your community

In your improv community, are many of the classes, rehearsals and shows male dominated? Perhaps it’s time to take some positive action to change that. You could cast shows or companies with this in mind and invite people into your community who are less represented. If you are a student or cast member and you notice it, bring it up with your teachers and directors. Don’t be afraid to have conversations about it. In some of our beginners classes, it just so happens that the majority of people who sign up are male. If that’s the case, we’ll try and balance things out as much as we can but sometimes it’s the make-up of a particular cohort. Again, try to notice any patterns and any patterns of improv material that come up as a result of who is in the room.

Make space for all voices in the room

So much of the joy of improv lies in group work. The magic of what our collective brains and bodies create that we could not have come up with alone.  Unfortunately girls are taught from a young age to be more quiet than their male counterparts and this all too often continues into adulthood. It is almost never done with ill intent; some of us are extroverts and some of us are introverts, some of us just get over excited (um, hi) but we have an opportunity to create space for everyone in our improvisation so notice and do what you can, whether as a team mate or room leader.

So on International Women’s Day this year, let’s “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity. IWD belongs to everyone, everywhere. Inclusion means all IWD action is valid“ even the simple choices we make on the improv stage.