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Ariane: Race & Improv - Why a research jam?

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Ariane Barnes, Founder of Different Women sheds light on why she had her heart set on fusing research, improv and safe space for her latest event.

What the heck is a research jam?

I know, it sounds strange but it’s the culmination of many years of being part of the UK improv scene on my own terms...

Some of you might know me from Showstopper! The Improvised musical, some of you might know me from the work I’ve done with the Equity race equality committee or perhaps you just know I’m a hard working artist with a passion for social justice.

When it comes to why I curated this particular event, all of those things apply.

Despite the wave of ‘interest’ in diversity following the recent Black Lives Matter uproar and it’s overdue ripples, the trust that anything will change in a way that will tangibly affect performers and particularly improvisers of colour, isn’t there. What we are used to is being handed scholarships, the occasional BAME casting, the categorisation and simultaneously being told (not shown) that we are more than a category.

We are forever stuck in the limitations and fear of punching up, down and across, being politically correct and the responsibility of not messing up ‘white people improv’- what the hell is that anyway? - well like many people out there it took me experiencing all POC improv to understand it.

When I first stumbled onto Do The right Scene, (Monica and Tai being my points of contact ) I couldn’t believe the difference I saw in my game almost immediately. I'd been to all POC comedy nights before and as a mixed race person (personal baggage incoming) the feeling had definitely been- ‘girl you funny as hell- but we ain’t interested in your kinda black.’ Our scene isn’t perfect either.

This was different.

First of all- the night was a total mix of glorious heritage, multi-racial in the proper sense of the word and all POC. The level of trust and inclusion seemed much more elevated than anywhere else I had ever played. The audience reaction was so much more ‘on side’ and the atmosphere was quite simply ‘banging’. I went from being ready to give up on the UK improv scene entirely to feeling like I belonged, that I had all sorts of permissions to go ‘wherever I wanted’ and that I was trusted. ‘Yes and’ finally could mean- yes to my heritage, yes to the obviousness of it- and the inherent comedy within that- and yes to my choices not being determined by the ethnicity of the players around me.

Sorry what? Being on stage with white people that you love/respect sometimes makes you a smaller player? This could only mean one thing:

Playing with & for white people- is a totally different game. And this experience is not uncommon.

It hit me like a truck; when you pride yourself on matching inner and outer game as much as you can, all the ‘awareness’ sort of hits you right between the eyes ‘famalam’ style. Like many POC players, I'd had no idea how much this had been affecting my game and my choices.

It’s so bleeding obvious isn’t it? Making choices according to all that politically correct stuff when you are in fact the source of the supposed need for it is bound to have an affect on the way you play- it’s psychology 101. And guess who has two parents for therapists and a yoga for mental health diploma?

Questions exploded in my head… How can I change this? How can I bring us together rather than divide us? What do WE NEED as a community? And so the idea of a research jam was born- I reached out to Monica Gaga and Do the Right Scene and fellow applied improv expert Minder Kaur Athwal and put my offer on the table:

Let's create a safe space for POC to talk about race and improv honestly, without limitations and use the answers to build bridges and progress throughout the performance world.

Let’s make it fun. Let’s make it honest. Let’s make it for us. Let’s hope those that care will listen to what we discover and make changes for the better when presented with the facts.

Ariane x

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