Everything comes in decade cycles it seems.
I remember the death knell of that era wave of women doing improvisational comedy uniting together as not wishing to be stereotyped, being treated fairly within companies in both production and performance and creating gender specific ensembles:
The moment I found myself going up an elevator to perform in a strip club above a porn store in New York for a woman based improv festival.
I turned to one of the women going up the elevator (as men were leering at us with sticky brown paper bags full of porn, wondering maybe if this was going to be naked improv comedy) and said "If Webster's could publish videos for the word irony, they would be taping this"
I remember talking to the producer in a restaurant when all the classes were cancelled (as there was no publicity for the classes, so the friend I was staying with ended up having me teach an emergency class and do a performance at a drama based High School), if I needed a ride back to the airport. I told the producer it was not necessary but the offer was very nice and we accepted. I was informed (with the improv partner I also brought to New York) a car would take us to the airport.
That morning when we were leaving New York, both of us tried to call the producer who did not pick up. I figured I would get on my computer and send an email. In my inbox was an email from the producer at a very ridiculous early time in the morning. It read: "Sorry, cannot get you a car to take you to the airport. Safe Travels."
I read the email to my improv partner. We both went shopping in New York under the impression that we did not need the money to get to the airport. I sat there feeling completely helpless. My improv partner looked at me and in a confused voice of a child looking at her mom wondering "What happened to Christmas" when finding no gifts because they are poor, she said to me three hours before we needed to get on a plane: "I thought they said they are going to take us to the airport"
....and like a mother who cannot supply Christmas? I lost it. I sat in the chair and started crying like I never cried. I just couldn't believe it. The same person who was kind enough to put us up, find a paying gig for us was now giving us enough cab money to make the plane.
If there was a Webster's Video for irony in 2002: The person who put up a woman's festival in a strip club above a porn store, did zero promotion did not inform any of the teachers they did not have any classes and left two women stranded in New York was a woman.
The people who helped us find a class to teach and a performance while in New York, put us up and gave us money to get back to the airport with a check in hand who had nothing to do with the festival...were men.
I learned many, many lessons at the festival that was designed specifically for women in improv comedy:
- Always have Emergency Money on the road.
- Always have a Backup Plan on the road for shows and classes.
- Just because you are both the same gender or race, does not mean you are not going to get boned. Get a contract.
- Performing improv on a stage above a porn store in a strip club with other women is hilarious in retrospect. Cracks me up now. Made me not want to wear a dress going up the elevator to see a show then.
Once the word got out on everything that happened to the women who attended, the festival slowly went to the wayside. Perspectives started to change. Sometimes, women are doing the same thing we abhor in improvisational comedy to each other. Female Ensembles started to fade away and moved on to other ventures.
But one thing did occur: You saw more women in gender equal ensembles. Some ensembles with more women than men. Things did change, but the rally of women in improv (the books, the festivals, the conferences, the online unified force) faded away. It did not go back to business as usual. It just went to: Things are better than they were. Let's now make some created make em up funny with everyone.
Jump to a Half a Score and a year today.
Today I woke up, got my coffee, smokes and vitamin pills (believing that is going to help be healthier after the cigarette and coffee) and got onto my email. I had been tagged on a Facebook Comment Post in the group "Traveling Improvisers Network"
It was from my dear friend Amy Roeder. The post only said: Shaun Landry & Jill Bernard definitely.
Knowing it was from Amy, I concluded that if I'm in the same sentence as Jill Bernard, this is probably not a bad thread.
I click onto the posting on Facebook and the question was ask by a lovely young lady in Portland:
Do you know a female improviser who exhibits these qualities:
- Passion for improvisation
- A high level of craftsmanship and artistry in performance.
- A strong interest in gender issues.
- Is a respected leader in their improv community.
- Experience teaching improvisation for 2 plus years.
If so, please tell us about her! We are interested.
It turns out the lovely woman who posted is doing an improvisational conference/festival for women in Portland the summer of 2014.
I sat at my computer and sobbed. My first thought was sending bath beads and a pool boy to Amy Roeder.
That is when a lot of things hit me after reading the comments on all the recommendations put in for this.
- I'm tickled to death there are so many amazing women out there.
- Nominating yourself (as Roeder puts it) is weird.
And the most important: There are some women who honestly do not deal with gender issues because the need is not important for their instance.
And that for me is actually the best response I can read in the last eleven years in the best way imaginable. And, I will tell you why from another perspective: Race issues and that ten year generation span.
If by some amazing zombie like miracle, Harriet Tubman came up to me, we would have literally nothing in common. I can tell her I played her onstage (while hoping she will not eat my brains being Zombie Harriet Tubman), but her experiences as an African American Woman generationally I can not put into reference to my own experience. I read it. She lived it.
She and many other amazing African American Women Zombies before me paved the way for me to not understand why race should be an issue. But in my time those issues of equality do flare up every decade with a new generation of African Americans dealing with inequality (The Paula Deen's. The repeal of voting in Congress. That judge who would not marry interracial couples) where a new generation is fighting and continuing to maintain equality.
I can absolutely see a resurgence in the idea of equality for women in comedy coming back to the forefront again. Especially, with the current ideas of women in general in this country: Reproductive Laws. Rape Culture. The ongoing nonsense of women not being funny especially in the world of stand up comedy and writers in Sketch Comedy.
I can completely see this being an issue again for this generation now, and I'm not even Zombie Shaun Landry yet. (But oh you just wait. Brains.)
The generation that does not understand and never considered it an issue are the wonderful talented women ...who (like myself) were blessed to be around men and an improv scene in general, who never thought we were second class in comedy.
We have been around men who not only said we were funny...but were around when we got boned by other women professing equality and togetherness for women in comedy.
I'm glad Webster's is now online. I can now make a video for the term irony.
I'm also glad another festival is in the makings for women to band together and do something that is indicative to being a woman improviser like any improviser: Teach each other simply to be better improvisers while we all happen to have vaginas under the threat of government regulations.
Oh the wonderful social and political improvisational/sketch and standup comedy that could come out of a Women's Comedy Festival now.
I think that should be the main thrust of any improv festival for women.
Also, it is probably best not to have the festival above a porn store. It's been done a decade ago.
Causes Shaun Landry Supports
The Alzheimer's Foundation, NAACP, Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda's Club.