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Slaying dragons on and off stage Why more female-identifying students should try improv

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Photo C/O McMaster Improv Team

By: Meghan Bird

Improvisational acting is an unscripted form of theatre where performers are inspired by audience suggestions to play out characters, stories and scenes on stage. Unlike other forms of theatre, it is an area traditionally dominated by men.

McMaster Improv Team is a drop-in club that provides McMaster University students the opportunity to learn improv in a comfortable and safe environment. This year, of the nearly two dozen members, only six are female-identifying.

As one of these six female improvisors, I have been involved in preparing a fairytale-themed show titled, We Slay Dragons, in celebration of International Women’s Day on Mar. 9.  

Accompanying this show is an introductory improv workshop for women. The goal of this event is to empower women to be the heroes of their own stories, and encourage more women to reap the benefits of participating in improv.

The mastermind behind this event, Natasha Sacka, commented that “[she] really wanted to do something to celebrate Women’s Day… We do not have a lot of women on the team [but] the few women we do have are very strong improvisors.”

These improvisors are Yuxin Bai, Emily Blum, Magda Lesinska, Natasha Sacka, Katie van Kampen and myself, Meghan Bird. In the days approaching the performance, I asked my fellow performers to discuss the impact that improv has had on their lives.

According to Sacka, “improv is very personally important to so many members of the team. It’s more than just comedy.”

Before joining improv, Sacka commented that “I felt like I was constantly failing in school [and] in life… I just started coming out to improv and it was the first time in a long time that I felt like I had some sort of control. Being good at one thing in [my] life meant so much to me.”

For Blum, the first semester of university was “a really hard time … when I found this club it was like something clicked. It was like these are the people who I want to surround myself with. I can’t even begin to describe how the quality of my life has improved since doing improv. I feel more confident with myself.”

As a participant in improv for the past five years, the capacity that improv has to enrich lives never ceases to amaze. It is an art form that teaches confidence, collaboration, communication, listening and risk-taking skills. I’ve learned to express myself on stage while simultaneously supporting others find their voice.

This International Women’s Day, I hope that female-identifying students will get to reap the benefits of practicing improv through attending the improv fundamentals workshop hosted by the women of the McMaster Improv Team.

“Improv is a tool for any individual but specifically [for] an individual who feels marginalized…,” said Blum. “Women are taught from a young age that we are supposed to be pretty and put-together and look and act a certain way. At improv, I can be any character. I can be any gender. Improv is a beautiful rebellion against women needing to be a certain way.”

Many of the feelings and experiences these women shared are ones which resonate with me.

This year, I have spent a lot of time questioning whether I am “good enough” as a performer, as a female and as a human being. These fears were echoed by my fellow performers but their responses inspired me.

Despite our differing backgrounds and experiences, we continue to express ourselves, determined to learn and grow as performers and as people.

Writing this piece has reminded me that practicing improv is a reciprocal experience; the more of yourself you put out on stage, the more you will receive at the end of the day.

I am sure that the women of McMaster Improv Team will agree with me when I say that, this year alone, improv has given us a lot. I hope other women on campus can be inspired to give it a try.  

 

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