Women in Improv

Matt Vance is doing 2000 word article about GGG for Austin Woman Magazine. We’re very excited about it. He’s come to a show and a rehearsal and he’s also conducted some interviews with the Girls. He emailed me some questions and got me thinking about women in improv (again). So I thought I should post my answer to his questions

-What do you get out of performing improv and/or your involvement with GGG in general?

I’m sure everyone’s answer to this would be different. For me, I really value the training I’m getting in improvised singing and dance. Also, I have the slumber party theory about the troupe: as young girls, we all made up songs and dances just for fun at slumber parties and when GGG is working well, it feels just like that. Like you’re playing with your friends and, at the same time, pretending to be a star.

-How do you think performing improv is different for women than it is for

There are three main benefits to being in an all girl troupe: casting, control, and comedy.

When performing co-ed improv, the casting problems are much like an actress would experience in Hollywood. There aren’t a lot of great parts written for women, especially women of diverse looks and body types. When you play with guys, you often get cast as the wife, mother, seductress, waitress, etc. — in some one-dimensional supporting role. When you play with only women, you can cast yourself as you like. You can play the hero, the villain, the sidekick or the damsel in distress. It’s up to you.

Improv by its nature is a competitive and aggressive activity. You are fighting for your space on stage and to get your ideas out there. When playing co-ed improv, as a woman you can tend to defer to the male improvisers, letting them make many of the decisions (and get most of the laughs) on stage. When playing with all women, you are forced to do this work yourself. Making strong choices and playing without fear is something we are constantly working on as a troupe. Playing with all women helps us exercise those muscles a little better.

And I guess the last benefit would be to help dispel the myth that women aren’t funny. You’d be surprised how many people think that–men and women alike. We are a consistently funny troupe–and we are all women.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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