In anticipation of our May/June term, the Improv Embassy is starting an inclusion initiative, which involves raising funds for our Inclusion Scholarship (click here to apply for our upcoming classes before April 30), as well as specialized programming beginning in May, the proceeds of which will go toward the Scholarships.
The Inclusion Directors share their thoughts about what inspired them to start these spaces and why inclusion initiatives are crucial.
DANI ALON (Education Director, producer of “The Fembassy”)
As a female improviser, I don’t believe you should have to grow a thick skin to do improv. Because I’ve been doing this since 2009, I have no trouble channeling my fierce inner Susan Messing if I’m the only woman onstage with a bunch of aggressive guys — but women who are new to the art form and still learning can’t and shouldn’t be expected to play hard to avoid being steamrolled or undermined in scenes. I’ve seen petite, quiet players drop a truth bomb and devastate a room … as long as their larger, louder teammates give them space onstage to contribute and succeed.
While there are many men I love playing with, having a designated monthly space where I can jam with my peers can be extremely liberating. There’s more freedom to play a dude if I want to, since it won’t be assumed I’m going to be “the girl” in the scene, and I can play unsavoury, stereotypical female characters and not have to worry about representing all women. My trio Garbage Tits (with Val Perelshtein and Deborah Ring) is amazing because we can play the grossest hags, and it doesn’t feel like we’re selling out our gender because we’re all in on the joke. The Fembassy was intended as a platform for people to do the comedy that they want to do (as long as it doesn’t shit on other groups, no Beckys please) — and some of our shows have run the gamut from feminist and angry to silly and apolitical. We’ve had a dozen new people try stand up after Brie Watson came and did a workshop — the support and appreciation from an audience that’s been craving a shared perspective is electric.
I’ve been fortunate in that I started improvising in Toronto in 2009, surrounded by feminine greatness. WDWMKR was just the greatest long form improv team, with detailed and vivid characters and spectacular groupmind. Currently Yas Kween is hugely successful and a breath of fresh air, and we were lucky enough to get them for OIF. I got to learn from a plethora of female teachers like Annie Bankes, Lisa Merchant, Ashley Botting and Inessa Frantowski in Toronto, plus Tara DeFrancisco and aforementioned Susan Messing in Chicago. My hope is that by empowering more voices we’ll have the leaders and role models to make our scene more bigger and stronger.
SIMON HA (Diversity Coordinator, producer of “Token | A POC Comedy Show”)
I am a second generation Chinese Canadian who grew up in white suburbia. My best friends were white, I spoke English and French and I had a huge crush on Julia Roberts. So I considered myself more of a white person than a Chinese person. And the Asians I saw in movies were either doing martial arts or being used as a punch line, which effed me up because it negatively affected the way I treated myself and allowed others to treat me.
Not really knowing where I fit in, I was kind of embarrassed for who I was. I wanted to disown my heritage so I could just be like everyone else. I had that outgoing type of insecurity so whenever someone would make an Asian joke, I would laugh a little louder and harder to let everyone know I was “cool” and die a little bit inside each time… I never really understood it until I was a few months into studying improv. I had been learning what it was like to explore real human perspectives and emotions that I never had the space to do in other parts of my life. It was liberating and it perpetuated into my everyday life. I decided that if I was angry about something I would let myself be angry. If I was sad, I would let myself be sad. I was finally going to be my genuine self.
Without the encouragement and support from my teachers and fellow performers at Experimental Farm Theatre and the Improv Embassy, I don’t think I would have ever gotten that far. And that’s why our theatre’s inclusion initiatives are so important to me. We are creating opportunities that allow failure, encourage people to try new things and speak their truth without worrying about being endowed and trapped in typical stereotypes. And when people in the audience see people like them succeeding and being respected on stage, they’ll see it for themselves as well. Maybe they’ll sign up for an improv 101 class!
ANGUS WRIGHT (Community Outreach Coordinator, producer of “Embassy Q”)
The first time I saw another Queer person was in the movie Torch Song Trilogy. It was airing on First Choice, the movie channel, and starred Harvey Fierstein as Virginia Ham, a drag queen in New York. While I didn’t necessarily identify with the character, I connected with the main character Arnold (Virginia Ham). Even though I am an out Queer person, I don’t see myself as represented. I see elements of myself, but I have to be looking for them. My goal is to express my unique voice, and hopefully learn from many others.
Improv provides people an opportunity to express themselves in a truthful way. If you hear the same song on repeat, see the tv show over and over, or only read one book you will only have a narrow view of the world. An inclusion program helps remove some very real barriers for people who have other life experiences to create and amplify their voice. It also lets people know that they are welcomed and supported. Personally, after losing 300lbs in my 30’s I’ve been reinvented so to speak. Improv has aided me in my path of discovering who I am. There’s something beautiful about fluidity.
Improv has taught me how to take what’s offered to me (suggestions, endowment, scene flow, and learn how to say “yes, and” leading to a world of possibilities. As a survivor who lives with PTSD, Anxiety and Depression, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, improv has helped me handle situations with more confidence, and expand my way of looking at things. I realize that my status in life (caucasian, male, passing) affords me privilege, and having faced homophobia and discrimination by an employer, I’m horrified to think of how those with lower status, or privilege have to face their experiences. It’s my hope to encourage as many people to explore their truth through improv.
I’ve been learning improv since March 2016. It was a 40th birthday gift to myself. In this past year I’ve developed so many “improv crushes” on people in the classes, and on stage. It’s been an amazing experience watching people discover their own self in context of the stage. Earlier this year I had the luck to catch an LGBTQIA+ workshop followed by Kinsey Fail. They performed a living room set that gave me life, and made me want that for myself, and my community. Kweendom and Bloody Marys from Toronto, Sand from Chicago, and Ottawa’s own Garbage Tits all bring a lot to the table!
Token | A POC Comedy Show will have its debut on May 7th
The Fembassy, for women and non-binary performers, will move to the second Sunday of the Month (switching from the fourth after April 23rd) starting May 14th
Embassy Q, an LGBTQIA+ variety show, will have its inaugural show May 28th, after which it will move to the 3rd Sunday of the month
For more information, visit our shows page