I remember going to an improv workshop when I was around 18-21. It was a guest teacher coming to teach a regular group that I attended. We were playing a game and I can’t remember what it was but it was something to do with having to keep playing at a certain level of energy for the entire scene.
It was my turn and I was given a suggestion of having to play the whole scene as if I was having sex/an orgasm. Urgh. I remember trying to say I wasn’t comfortable but my normal improv teacher pushed me to do it, he said that it’d be good for me to work on my characterisation skills…
So I did a scene, having a normal conversation but at a level 10 energy vocalising like I was having an orgasm. I said yes and…, I was a “good improviser,” and I did what I was asked to do.
What I should have said is “FUCK NO!”
What the course leader should have said is “FUCK NO!”
What my fellow improvisers should have said is “FUCK NO!”
Being an improviser and saying “Yes and…” does not mean that you have to do scenes that make you uncomfortable, it does not mean you have to accept sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc, it does not mean that you have to allow someone to get a laugh at your expense.
It’s over 10 years later and I still remember that scene. I still feel dirty, uncomfortable and embarrassed when I remember it. I also feel angry. The guest teacher, my usual teacher or one of my improv team mates should have spoken up and said no, that’s not cool.
I was a very young and naive 18-21, I wasn’t able to say no and it was quite clear that if I had of said no it would have been interpreted that I was being difficult and not a team player.
Please know that you can say No. You can say no by not Yes anding a suggestion, you can do this cleverly by changing the direction of the scene but you can also just say No. Stop the scene, say you’re not comfortable. You have the right to do that.
We can also help our fellow improvisers when we see this happening. Call it out when you see it happening, jump in and help change the scene direction, speak to the teacher after class. We all have a part to play in making improv a safe space for all.
Improvisers are clever. We don’t need to make a scene funny by making someone do orgasm noises. We have so much more depth to give than that.
So sometimes instead of saying “Yes and…” let’s say “Fuck no” instead!