Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Being the only girl in a pack of boys

I grew up with seven brothers, or, to be more accurate, I was raised by a pack of wolves. My only sister did not arrive until I was nine, and it was still a few years before she could contribute to the conversation.

Because she was the baby of the family, I think my wolf brothers were probably a little (or a lot) gentler on my sister than they were on me. Nonetheless, being one of the pack was a perfect opportunity to sharpen my teeth for becoming an improviser.

I grew a thick skin early on along with the ability to command attention when needed, to retreat when necessary and to always be ready with a quick comeback. There was also an unspoken rule in our home that you could get away with saying just about anything, if it made my parents laugh. Nothing overtly hateful could pass, but a well-timed curse word or two would slide if it got a chuckle.

So, I can hold my own as the only girl, but damn, was I relieved when my sister finally arrived. She was the button on our family, a saving grace that brought balance and order. And she's one of the funniest darned people I've ever met. While I would have survived without her, I'm so freaking glad I didn't have to.

Now, how often do you see an improv team with seven guys and one girl? It gets a bit monotonous, doesn't it? One function of an improv team is to represent the world in which we live. When our population is 51% female and 49% male, a group that is 90% male is hardly representative.

In these uneven groups, the gal sometimes looks a bit like an outsider and is often relegated to playing just moms and girlfriends – extensions of the men.

In the best groups, the women are on even footing and have opportunities to play a wide range of characters.

But, ladies, if we want to play the ship captains, doctors, pilots and pimps (not the hos), it is also our responsibility to step up and take these roles.

Bridget Kloss, my teacher for both Level 1 and 2 is one of those amazing women who is willing to jump in and get her hands dirty with the boys while at the same time empowering all to play at the top of their intelligence.

I remember her strongly encouraging me to continue with classes because "we need more strong women" in improv.

As Bridget pointed out, in the early levels of classes, the male to female ratio is pretty even, but somewhere along the way, the women just drop off. Where do they go, and what is motivating the exit?

I have not experienced, nor do I want to believe there exists, any actual discouragement from any males I have been in class with. So, if they're not pushing us out, we must be giving up on ourselves.

I have no doubt that I will continue to do improv and take classes, (I already perform and teach at another theater), but it was Bridget that cemented my desire to continue at iO West.

At one point, I was hoping to go through the whole training center taking classes only from female teachers, but due to scheduling issues, it's just not feasible. But, I will do what I can to study with as many women as possible. I can't wait for Level 4 with Shulie Cowen!

I've worked with all female groups in the past and I relish that kind of unity. And, just like I was aching to have a little sister, I simply crave that kinship with female improvisers and a female teacher.

So, ladies, why are you dropping out? DON'T!

You're as equally improv-errific as any of the men in class.

It's important that we stick around and stick together - for us, for the boys and for the audience.



A. We're FUNNY! If you've ever been unfortunate enough to hear any misogynist nonsense to the contrary, don't you dare believe it. I could write a list longer than Andy Dick's bar tab of all the fabulously funny females who have shaped the world of comedy. At this very moment, we can annihilate that "women aren't funny" LIE with one title and one name: Bridesmaids. Melissa McCarthy. 'Nuff said.

B. We all know men cannot survive without us. Seriously. It's a wonder they can dress themselves.

C. We provide balance. Every yang needs a yin. We bring a different perspective, feminine grace and unique style that rounds out any comedy group. Don't make that one woman in the group do all the heavy lifting. Join her. Support her.

D. We're pretty. Come on, who doesn't want something lovelier to look at besides a bunch of scrawny white guys in Converse and plaid flannels over an ironic T-shirt?

E. The audience needs us. Do it for yourself, but more importantly, do it for your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your best friends and the strangers off the street who need positive, comedic role models.

When someone walks into an improv show in any theater, USA, and all they see is that same combo of seven guys and one gal, it just reiterates the same old, same old.

But any time a woman can walk into a comedy show and see more than one of her own on stage, it can only instill pride, confidence, camaraderie and ambition.

The boys possess all that in spades, and we she-wolves deserve our fair share.

So, take the stage, lassies. Show 'em what you got. And, if the wolves try to bite, just bite back.

- Lita Lopez

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