The kinds of stories that have been swirling around the improv community these days can inspire outrage at the people who are victimizing others, and it should. But when seeking better outcomes, we must address more than just the bad apples in our community. We must do more than put in place policies that address harassment.
Let’s say that you were put in charge of a large comedy theater that has recently had significant issues with sexual harassment. What might you do? Well you might take a look at your policies. You probably would open up channels so that people could have a way to confidentially share their experiences. You might arrange some training for your staff. And you might have to fire some people–get rid of the “bad apples” as they say. But if you don’t address the power structure of your organization, it will never really get fixed.
Even before the recent public accusations of rape, unwanted sexual advances, and hostile environments, it should have been obvious that there was a problem. The gender imbalance at certain theaters is obvious and persistent. In a way, harassment is the ugly symptom of a disease that goes much deeper.
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I uploaded episode #9 of the IRC Podcast yesterday. My guest this week is Lillian Frances who owns and runs the Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg, IL. She talks about auditions, teaching kids, using your warmups well, and yes-anding life. She performed at iO Theater and with many improv groups in Chicago. She was also a perfomer and assistant director for Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. She directed for Second City National Touring Company, the all women’ improv groups Jane and Sirens, and sketch shows with GayCo and Stir Friday Night.
This interview was a little different than the others, because we ended up talking a lot about what it’s like to run the business of a small improv theater. I really like how Lillie talks about her performers. It’s obvious that she has a lot of respect for her performers and trusts them in ways that not all improv directors do. It’s not surprising that several years after she first held auditions, seventeen of her first hires still work for her.