This is a women-trans-femme led organization and we would expect the same of any new chapter. Thank you!
This is a women-trans-femme led organization and we would expect the same of any new chapter. Thank you!
The Twin Cities Improv Festival (TCIF) is a five-day improv celebration that includes workshops and performances. This will be the eleventh year of the festival and it will be held at HUGE Theater. Our goal in creating this document and graphic is to provide a snapshot in time of where TCIF is in terms of diversity, and is reflective of the final list of performers provided to us by TCIF. We did not take into account the process of creating the festival, but rather focused on the final product.
Last year, Fair Play MN assessed the gender and racial disparities in the festival — this year, we conducted the same assessment. Out of the 60 performers on Friday and Saturday nights (prime-time slots for the festival), 53% of those performers are women and 35% of those performers are people of color. Out of seven instructors, three are women and three are people of color.
In comparison to last year’s TCIFX, the total number of individual women performing increased by 20 and the total number of individual people of color performing increased by 15. Last year, there was a smaller pool of women performing multiple times. However, this year, not only is there a larger number of individual women and POC performing, but in many cases, each of those individual performers is seen on stage in multiple shows.
In addition to this, TCIFX had eight teachers who were all white males. There were no women or people of color. This year, out of seven teachers, only one is a white male.
What does this data mean?
Fair Play MN came into existence in early 2016 in order to call out gender representation disparities in our community and create a call for action. This process has meant confronting underlying tensions in improv and comedy in general, and has been both a painful and exciting process for our entire community. We have asked performers of every identity to deeply analyze our preconceived patriarchal notions of hierarchy in performance spaces. From TCIF10 to TCIF11 we have watched the conversation about “good improv” change from being defined by tenure to being defined by whether it brings something new and powerful to the stage.
Over the last year we as a community have woken up from a long sleep and we are hungry for something new. Fair Play MN is now a part of a larger drive toward equity, and many other individuals and groups have stepped up to create new spaces for other folks to play. For example, BlackOut Improv played a major role in increasing the number of POC participating in the improv community. In addition to the POC jam there are now Women/Trans/Femme/Genderqueer classes, a Queer Improv jam, new classes for seniors, a 40+ improv jam, and an improv jam for teens. We have seen a major increase in participation and feeling of agency. Theaters have opened their doors to these folks and made space for more opportunities. TCIF11 represents our desire to be better.
How can we as a community continue this progress?
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” —Madeleine Albright
Notes regarding this data:
2016 was a year of growth and change for FairPlay. In February, FairPlay was built on the collective passion of almost 100 women-trans-femme improvisors to give purpose and direction to their pain, frustration, joy, and hope for the future of our improv community. We formed a leadership team in April and identified our group’s mission – to claim equitable space for all women-trans-femme improvisers – and goals:
In 2016, as awareness grew, the FairPlay Leadership Team responded to many requests for advice and advocacy. These requests came from survivors of sexual harassment and assault, improvisors seeking to make their groups more inclusive, and women-trans-femme improvisors navigating complex environments. We reached out to local improv venues to identify points of contact for gender equity concerns, and received great support and interest from venues. We published several documents, including “Sexism and Misogyny in the Twin Cities Improv Community;” “Calls to Action to Theaters, Improvisors, and Teachers/Coaches/Directors;” TCIFX equity analysis; and boundary guidelines.
In the past year, we have encountered a lot of feedback, support, pushback, and sometimes outright hostility in response to our work. In many ways, this is all part of creating cultural change. Growth can be difficult, even painful. We have made mistakes, and learned from those mistakes. We have made difficult and important choices because we knew someone had to take action. Despite the challenges we have faced this year, we remain committed to claiming equitable space for women-trans-femme improvisors in the Twin Cities. We remain open to hearing from the community about your concerns, fears, and hopes. As a community-driven organization, we strive to remain connected to the community that we care about enough to hold to high standards.
Recently, public conversations about some of the decisions made by the FairPlay Leadership Team have demonstrated to us the need for more transparency in our work. Because our original, urgent task was to provide support to women who had experienced sexual harassment and assault in the community, protecting the privacy of those who sought our help was our top priority. While that hasn’t changed, we now recognize that the need for privacy means that much of our work takes place outside of the public eye. In order to establish greater transparency between FairPlay and the larger Twin Cities improv community, we want to provide a few clarifications, as well as our commitment to addressing those concerns:
In 2017, we aim to continue to grow, evolve, learn, and find our place in this community. We will further engage the Twin Cities improv community in moving towards greater gender equity. The FairPlay Public Meeting on January 15th is an opportunity for members of the community to participate in challenging but necessary conversations about creating an improv community that is accessible, inclusive, and equitable to all, regardless of gender identity. Click here to learn more about the FairPlay Public Meeting on January 15th.
Our sincere hope is that 2017 is a year of progress, accountability, and equity for the Twin Cities improv community. We are ready to show up and work to make that happen, and we hope to see you there.
What happens when someone contacts us to raise a particular issue or concern.
What happens when someone in the FairPlay leadership team sees something they find concerning.
One of the issues presented most frequently in the improv community regards the structure of a boundaries discussion. We have had several requests for a clear and defined method around discussing personal and group boundaries. In order to address this topic, we met with a small group of interested folks, came up with some basic ideas, and then tested these ideas with several groups of improvisers. From there, we created the “levels of intimacy” and “Boundaries conversation guidelines” posters as well as a detailed brochure. All of these are downloadable, and FairPlay offers the following recommendations for use:
Please feel free to use these posters and brochure to help create and maintain a safe and healthy community.
The Twin Cities Improv Festival (TCIF) is a five-day improv celebration that includes workshops and performances. This will be the tenth year of the festival and it will be held at HUGE Theater.
Before the festival begins, Fair Play MN and Blackout Improv turn to the numbers to show the gender and racial disparities in the festival this year. Out of the 44 performers on Friday and Saturday nights (prime-time slots for the festival), 75% of those performers are men and 93% of those performers are white. Furthermore, for those of you hoping to take a workshop taught by a woman or person of color, you are out of luck. All eight of the instructors teaching a workshop this year are white men. 100%.
These numbers do not represent the Twin Cities community and they do not represent our improv community. What these numbers represent is the time and space that whiteness and maleness take up on our stages and in our classrooms related to the amount of time and space for women and people of color.
What do we want?
“And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.” -Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”
Notes regarding this data:
The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging it, and then it’s time to take action. Fair Play MN has created a list of suggested steps that specific groups (theaters, improvisors, teachers, coaches, directors) can take to move us closer to a community that is respectful and inclusive of all improvisers. Change will not happen overnight, but every single member of the community can take action towards positive change.
Call To Action: Theaters
In order to provide a safe space for teachers, performers, students and audience members, Twin Cities comedy theaters should take the following recommended actions:
Call To Action: Improvisers
Improv as an art form allows for limitless creativity and opportunity. In a world where everything is possible, it is our job as improvisers to make choices that challenge the norm of patriarchal misogyny, rather than reinforce it.
Call to Action: Teachers, Coaches and Directors
As a teacher, as a coach or as the director of a show, we occupy a position where we have the power and the responsibility to push for change and for inclusive and respectful improv.
An Open Letter to the New Orleans Improv Community
We have recently become aware of the situation taking place at the The New Movement Theater. From our conversations with folks within the New Orleans improv community, as well as the google form and letter sent from The New Movement Austin, we have come to understand that you are calling for the resignation of Tami and Chris, owners of the New Movement New Orleans. They are being asked to resign due to mishandling sexual assault reports, questioning the mental health of the reporting survivor, engaging in inappropriate relationships with people under their power, as well as lying to the community and stealing from the theater. The details are plentiful and will likely become even more clear in days to come. We are not writing to you to clarify any of these details or ask you to rehash the pain happening in NOLA, but rather to offer support for your community and encourage the work you are doing.
FairPlay MN is an organization and advocacy group based in the Twin Cities that acts to build equitable space for women, trans, femme and non-binary improvisers on our stages. In the past two years we have worked within our own community to call out harassment and assault, educate improvisers, teachers and community leaders on setting and respecting boundaries. We have engaged and drawn our community together to address the issues of sexual assault, harassment and rape culture in how it affects our performance and relationships.
As an organization, we extend our full support to your community as you ask Tami and Chris to end their positions as owners of The New Movement. Not just stepping down, but completely removing themselves as owners. We support your boycott of the theater and encourage the conversation you are having now about what happens next. You are doing the work, and the work is extremely difficult. This is happening in your community now, but it has happened in one improv community after another, all across the country. You are not alone. The pain that comes with these awful revelations is intense, deep and lasting. We have experienced that pain in Minneapolis, and unfortunately we as a nation will continue to experience that pain as more stories of sexual assault and harassment come to light.
As you move forward, we hope to offer you support in your rebuild process. We have created a folder of documents that we are happy to share with your community to use as a starting place for building advocacy in your own theaters around sexual assault, harassment and rape culture. In addition to those resources, we can offer some guidance as to what things can happen next to help your community grow and flourish. We have worked with other improv communities to help rebuild their community guidelines and would be ecstatic to work with you in any way you need. We understand that the most important thing at this time is just to get through the next few days and weeks, and persist in making your voices loud until they are heard.
We have your back.
The FairPlay MN Leadership Team
In 2016, FairPlay MN received notice about a performer named Blake Hogue who would be returning to his hometown of Rochester, MN. Blake had been asked to leave the communities he was part of in Los Angeles because of a series of allegations made against him from women in the performance community. These allegations have been detailed in a number of articles, facebook posts, and blogs available to the public. Women who came into contact with Blake over the course of his time teaching and performing improv and theater in LA have offered explicit accounts of his poor behavior, which illuminate a pattern of sexual harassment and stalking to their communities, as well as formal complaints to the theaters in which he was connected to.
The allegations made demonstrate a profound history of verbal and digital harassment of women, abuse of power, and direct manipulations of women in order to get them to perform sexual acts. None of these cases have been brought to a formal court and many of them were reported anonymously. However, Blake himself has substantiated these claims on his personal website and admitted to his poor behavior.
Some theaters in Minnesota — specifically, Yellow Tree Theater in Osseo, MN and Rochester Repertory Theater in Rochester, MN — have chosen to cast Blake in their shows. On top of performing, he was also hired as a teacher at the Repertory Theater, the exact position he held in LA when he allegedly contacted his students and abused his power to coerce them into having sex. When women in Minnesota contacted these theaters about their concerns, they were either shut down or completely ignored. Additionally, moderators for the Twin Cities Theater People Facebook group, which held members from all theater communities across Minneapolis and St. Paul, shut down conversations regarding Blake and his history of harassment. The group has since disbanded and been archived as a result of the conversations surrounding Blake.
FairPlay MN is an organization dedicated to building equitable spaces for women-trans-femme improvisers in the Twin Cities. In order to fulfill that mission, we must ensure that our performance spaces are free of individuals who have demonstrated dangerous and predatory behaviors in the past, particularly when that person has been removed from other theaters for this behavior. Claims from theaters he is currently working at have concluded that there is “no lawful evidence” of his behavior. One of our highest values in FairPlay is to believe the stories of survivors and do whatever is in our power to protect them. Whether or not an incident has made it to court and been verified (an outcome we all know is almost impossible to achieve), FairPlay believes these survivors stories and will act in defense of them.
Our primary goal as an organization has always been education and prevention. “Naming names” is not something we have actively participated in in the past, particularly because these situations can be difficult to handle. However, this situation demands our attention, and it demands we speak loudly and clearly. We have been advised that Blake now intends to move to Minneapolis from Rochester, MN, and we want to make ourselves perfectly clear: Blake Hogue is not welcome in our improv community, and we will actively vocalize our objections to his presence there. We urge the greater theater community to do the same. We urge those in power at these theaters to refrain from granting him positions of power when his track record demonstrates that he has used those positions of authority as a way to manipulate and hurt others.
This is not a witch hunt. A witch hunt is when women were falsely accused of impossible fallacies and then burned at the stake without a chance for redemption. Blake Hogue has been accused of harassment that he himself admitted to, and we no longer welcome him to be in the very same spaces where he committed those acts.
Something we have been asked in the past is “when is a person able to move past their mistakes?” or “when is someone considered forgiven for harassment?” And frankly, we don’t have an answer to that. There is a precedent in this country of harassers offering quick and insincere written apology statements as a way to remedy years of poor behavior, and then continuing to act the way they always have. There is no precedent for what it looks like to actually make radical change and repair the damages you have caused in your own community. If Blake wants to be the person to set this precedent, he is welcome to do so, but as it stands we are not convinced.
Every step we take as an organization is to better our improv community and change the way we understand our relationships with one another. Part of bettering our community is protecting it from those who have the ability to damage its members. Blake Hogue not only has the ability to harm, he has the track record to prove it.
The FairPlay Leadership Team
FairPlay MN is pleased to present A Very Feminist Valentine’s Day! This comedy show will feature an incredible cast of performers and content representative of and dedicated to creating equitable space for women-trans-femme improvisers in the twin cities.
February 10, 2017
Show @ 10:30p // Doors will open shortly beforehand
Tickets sold at the door for a minimum suggested donation of $10+. If you can’t afford the suggested donation, you will not be turned away. If you can afford more, we welcome it!
All funds will be donated to local organizations that support women, trans and queer communities – specific organizations to be announced shortly.
Jen Van Kaam
Beth K. Gibbs
Kory LaQuess Pullam
Becky Wilkinson Hauser
… and more!
We are very excited to announce that Sally is now joining our leadership team, which will be now composed of 6 members!
Why did you want to be a part of the leadership team?
Over the past year that Fairplay has existed, I have watched the community evolve in so many positive ways – I have watched us all ask ourselves and each other difficult questions and seen us each be confronted with our own shortcomings as we examine how we all contribute to the systemic issue of sexism. While so much of the change has been good, I have also seen the ugly side of asking the difficult questions. I have seen the fire of confrontation and accusations spread; and I recognize that in many ways, Fairplay lit that initial spark. I have watched people I care deeply about be dragged through the mud, and I have watched the Fairplay leadership team carry on despite this, even as the emotional toll wore them down and out.
I have also witnessed and experienced first hand the real and tangible difference that an organization like this can make in empowering women to confront the unfair standards that we are held to by our male counterparts, and often times, by ourselves.
At its core, I wanted to be a part of the leadership team because I thought it was a good idea to have a fresh perspective both on the organizational/logistical aspects and on the role of the group itself. I wanted to bring new energy into the group, and I did not want to be an armchair advocate in the community.
What experiences have you had that you feel prepare you for your role on the Fairplay leadership team?
Defining how I am “qualified” for this is so subjective – we each have different ideas as to what level of experiences really makes a personal qualified to do anything, and while Fairplay has never claimed to be “qualified” to take on this role, I understand that by doing so we are inherently claiming we do, in some ways. As far as informal training goes, I am a woman who has lived in a patriarchal society since birth. There’s really no better qualification for wanting better for ourselves and other women, and I hope that Fairplay has played a part in inspiring confidence that we are each worth speaking up for.
As far as formal training goes, I served on the staff of a non-profit organization whose sole purpose was empowering youth aged 14-24 for three years. I was then elected to chair the organization for two consecutive years. The organization – Summer’s End – was the only organization of its kind to our knowledge. It was run by youth, for youth. I have seen a lot of the same principles of that community apply here. In my role as chair, I created the sexual harassment and formal “harshing” policy. I have extensive training in mediation, conflict resolution, and specifically on communication in consensus based communities/discussions. I have also worked in law and finance since college, so I tend to approach things from a very analytical point of view.
What do you like to do when you’re not improvising?
I love my job as a mortgage underwriter for a major bank. I spend a lot of my time focusing on civil rights movements and equality; I recently successfully pitched a project to install gender neutral restrooms at my workplace which was accepted and will eventually be implemented nationwide. I also work on a show called Minnesota Tonight, which I really love because it’s a satirical news show that focuses entirely on issues impacting our state. When I’m at home, I love to read, hang with my cats, eat at restaurants in the ‘burbs, and watch HGTV.
3 Dumb words you like the sound of:
Yogurt, elephant, oregano.
Where can we see you perform?
HUGE Theater, Friday nights at 8pm with Throwback Night in January and February 2017. Then, starting in March and April, I will be running crew for the Neutrino Video Project on Saturday Nights at 8pm (also at HUGE). You can come see Minnesota Tonight at Brave New Workshop on the fourth Wednesday of every month starting THIS month (Jan 25) for only $10!
How many improvisers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
One. You. Because you are enough.