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home : readerswrite : onyourmind August 23, 2017

Seriously, not funny
FairPlay members, L-R: L-R: Sarah Busch, Gubby Kubik, Sophie Brossard, Lizzie Gardner and Hannah Wydeven

By Hannah Wydeven, Lizzie Gardner, Gubby Kubik, Sophie Brossard and Sarah Busch of FairPlay


Women across the country are challenging the long-standing tradition of sexism and misogyny in the improv community. This problem has national attention in the past few months as issues of harassment and assault came to light in the Los Angeles and Chicago improv communities.

Beth Stelling, an L.A. comedian, opened up the dialogue by bravely sharing her story of being raped and assaulted by a well-respected comedian in the community. Thankfully, people listened. More women have come forward with their own stories. Charna Halpern, the founder of the iO Theater in Chicago, received extensive feedback after a mishandling of a harassment case that she made public online, and things started to change there, too.

Women in comedy are banding together, finding their voices, and talking to each other. In response to those conversations, a lot of things happened at once: support, backlash, anger, fear, sadness and relief. It is be-coming clear that far too many women have faced harassment, assault and rape at the hands of men in positions of power at various prestigious comedy theatres all over the country.

Women in the Twin Cities are having similar conversations after hearing other brave women share their stories. Many of us recognize our own experiences, or experiences of women we care about, in the stories from across the country. Women are coming together to share our experiences and to make our voices heard. We've found a way to unite through vulnerability and honesty, and we are using that unity to identify the changes we want to see in our theaters and improv community to make safer, more inclusive spaces for women.

As these conversations are happening around the Twin Cities, the wider improv community has taken notice. Reactions range from enthusiasm and support to anger and defensiveness. This topic is affecting people on a visceral level. Many are excited to hear women's voices getting louder, while others are apprehensive about what demands for change would mean for theaters, players and the way things have always been done.

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We don't have all the answers yet and that's okay. We are a group of women who have just started to speak our truths and are in the process of identifying next steps. We are actively working on ways to make the community safer for women and to ensure that they have equally respected roles in the community.

We know we want better guidelines for behavior on- and off-stage at the theatres we frequently perform in. We want better training for teachers and coaches on how to deal with behavior that reinforces stereotypes or puts women in unsafe positions. We want women to feel like they can bring up issues in theatres, groups, and classes without feeling like they're being too sensitive or not being "game" enough. We want women to feel like they can be women onstage without having their bodies objectified as a joke or being called a slut. We no longer want women or other marginalized groups to feel like they are just guests in this community - we want legitimate seats at that table.

We are grateful for the brave women who have shared their stories and we are hopeful for the future because of them. Women in the Twin Cities improv community will no longer be silent.

Hannah Wydeven, Lizzie Gardner, Gubby Kubik, Sophie Brossard and Sarah Busch are the leadership for the larger group in the Twin Cities working on issues of women in comedy.

FFI: FairPlay, fairplaymn@gmail.com

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