I am not a female improviser. I should preface that when I type this statement and say it out loud, I am not upset. Or angry. Or fed up. Or trying to make some feminist point here.
When I began my journey in improv, I didn’t set out to be a female improviser. Just simply an improviser. I’ve been told by people in the improv community, from performers and fans of improv in general that they enjoy watching me perform, which I’m not gonna lie is nice to hear. However, there have been other statements I’ve heard that made me second guess myself.
I was once told that I have all sorts of neat characters which was nice to see from a female performer. I’ve heard from mainly female audience members that it was refreshing to see a female performer go toe to toe with a large group of men. “Represent, girl!” one cheered as she high fived me. I’ve been told by students of the same gender as I that they look up to me for being a strong woman on stage.
I guess where I am confused on was, “When did it matter that I am a female?” I thought the 60s was all about getting rid of gender stereotypes along with hundreds of bras. I’m surprised that it still matters. Actually, bras still matter. I’m talking about the other thing.
However the issue still comes up. I was once accused of favoritism at a theater I once volunteered at because I was a woman and the owners focused more on women; that my ability to perform so often was because of my gender. It hurt my feelings and I felt bad that I was indeed receiving more stage time in comparison to the observer. I would like to have hoped it was my skill and ability in improv that got me the opportunity. Especially because, again, I didn’t set out to use my womanly bonus points to get me in the spotlight. It bugged my self-confidence for a long time but I continued to do what I liked on and off stage.
I have been brought on to teams as well for this reason, that I was a woman. That the team needed a sort of gender balance, so I was invited on. While that hurt again, I certainly didn’t dwell on it for long. I didn’t let that be the only trait I could bring to the team. It only challenged me to show others what else I could do.
Another instance where gender was a requirement of me was a sketch show I was a part of. I openly had to turn down roles because I noticed that I was getting casted for only mother/sister/girlfriend parts who I also noticed were all b!tchy or whiny. I simply didn’t think it was fun to play these parts. It wasn’t till I said this did the writers realize that this was true and began mixing up the casting to include men for female roles.
Instead, I perform to perform. I never held myself in competition with anyone else, penis- or vagina-endowed. It is one of my driving forces today. I am not where I am because there was a lack of women in the improv community (when I first started out) or there was someone I wanted to surpass. That is the absolute last reason on why I’m here. I’m here because I just want to play, be a part of a team, and entertain people. I am not my gender. I am me. When I get on stage for an improv show, I can be whoever I want to be. Sure it gets a laugh out of the audience when I label myself as a male character, or when a player onstage calls for a male character to join him and I walk on. Although I’m pretty sure they’re not laughing at me or my ability to portray a male character. It’s just something they didn’t expect. Kinda like when a man plays a female character in a scene.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you put the fault or praise on a performer’s ability to perform simply on their gender, you are limiting your perspective. I would rather like to hear that I am a good improviser rather than a good female improviser. It’s not unusual anymore, it’s not rare, and it certainly is not amazing that I am a female.
Thanks for reading!