2016 Changemakers: Fair Play

L-R: Sarah Busch, Gubby Kubik, Sophie Brossard, Lizzie Gardner and Hannah Wydeven Courtesy of FairPlay MN

“We’ve heard about certain performers who consistently make others feel uncomfortable on stage, say misogynistic things, or engage in harassment and even assault.”
– Hannah Wydeven

A Facebook page devoted to comedic women who improvise in the Twin Cities began to see an uptick in posts after scandals erupted in the Chicago and Los Angeles improv communities over unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate remarks and a persistent fear of retaliation. Comments included being consistently put into misogynistic roles on stage, to being harassed and assaulted by group members, teachers and directors.

A group of five women improvisers in the Twin Cities area decided it was time to take action.

“We had heard from many women that they wanted to get involved, so we held a meeting in January and created a leadership team,” says Hannah Wydeven, who, along with Elizabeth Gardner, Gubby Kubik, Sarah Busch and Sophie Brossard, is a co-leader of FairPlay MN, a group of what Wydeven terms “concerned citizens.” Their stated goal is to create an improv community that is accessible, inclusive, and equitable to all, regardless of gender identity. They hope to engender a culture shift away from improv’s traditional male-dominated roots and to make room for women as leaders in the improv community.

They’re aiming to achieve those goals in a number of ways, including calling attention to sexism, harassment and assault. Proactively, the group is sharing practical resources with teams, coaches and theaters to provide guidance for how to create more equitable spaces.

It hasn’t always been easy. “At first, we met some resistance,” Wydeven says. “People, men and women, didn’t want to talk about it or didn’t think it was a problem. And I think that sometimes they didn’t like the way we were approaching things, because they wanted us to be more polite.”

Since the group’s formation earlier this year, they have openly discussed issues with local venues. “We make sure not to share details that would give away the identity of survivors, but we do share information we are receiving on trends. We’ve heard about certain performers who consistently make others feel uncomfortable on stage, say misogynistic things, or engage in harassment and even assault.”

As the community settles into this new mindset, some venues have stepped up to work with FairPlay in a collaborative way. “HUGE Improv Theater and The Brave New Workshop Comedy Theater have actively invited us into the conversation, asked what they can do and have implemented our suggestions on what they can work on. HUGE has posted our sexual harassment policy in the theater,” Wydeven says.

The FairPlay MN website includes a resource document about creating safe boundaries for improv teams, targeted to directors, teachers, teams and individuals. “We want to encourage teams to have these conversations before things happen, and to be able to effectively address a situation if it does come up.”

FairPlay MN
 holds public meetings regularly. Hannah Wydeven urges those who have an interest in creating an openly accessible improv community to attend one of these meetings and let their voices be heard. The next meeting will be held in late January. Details will be posted on the group’s Facebook page: facebook.com/fairplaymn.
FFI: Fairplaymn.com