Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Girls and boys.

OK, first, something not at all improv related: Girls who don't dress like girls. I read about this...um...phenomenon on always-hilarious site of Wendy Molyneux (who may be one of the funniest women writing today). Apparently, these "Urbane Tomboys" (I know. Ew.) have...
...largely given up on mainstream women’s fashion, with its expensive, often unflattering vicissitudes, finding refuge in an eternal sporty girlhood that may or may not be tied to any real athletic bent. They borrow from men’s wear, which is more constant, comfortable and, lately, focused on well-made basics like jeans and T-shirts, and they profess ignorance of female grooming rituals, even if they have a secret love of eyeliner. Ever self-deprecating, this kind of woman is quick to tell you she “wears the same thing every day,” or that she dresses like her husband or boyfriend.
Except for the makeup thing (I'm wicked lucky to have rosacea—mild subtype 1—so if I go without I look like I've just jogged a fast mile), this is me. I've always been a little bit this way, but as I've gotten older, I've started to feel a leeeeeettle defensive about choosing layered t-shirts, jeans and sneakers over puffy-sleeved pinafores that feel juvenile or suits that just don't feel like me. Women's clothing has become stupider than ever, and finding something that doesn't make me look like I'm trying too hard—one way or the other—is near impossible.

So I look at my Blackberry every morning. If I have a meeting with people more than one level above me, I dress like a girl/grown-up. And I invariably get asked "why so dressed up?"

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Topic #2: From Jared's critique of TBA's set in Improv Thunderdome, Round 3:
If there was anything critical I could say about it, it's tough to do an all-male show without there being a little gayness.
Huh, I say. 

Semi-random thought #1: There's a lot of all-male improv in KC (and a whole lot of other places), and it doesn't seem like I see a lot of guy-on-guy action in scenes. I mean some—and too often played for laughs instead of as a real relationship—but it doesn't seem pervasive. 

Semi-random thought #2: If you spend any time at all around other people, you probably have way more platonic, same-gender connections than you do romantic relationships. So why would it be tough to bring those out on stage? 

Semi-random thought #3: I'm of different minds about playing opposite genders on stage: 
  • I've heard Michael Gellman advise newer players not to play the opposite sex because the audience spends more mental energy judging your ability to pull it off than watching the scene—so it can be a barrier. 
  • Too many times, we make weak opposite-gender choices to fill in a blank in a scene—playing the shorthand of a role rather than a fully fleshed out character. 
  • But, of course, some experienced players rock the gender-bending. 
Conclusion, intended to stir shit up: In improv, gender stereotypes can play out in their full glory: Men find it harder to express emotions, men aren't as emotionally connected to others, men don't invest as much in relationships, blah, blah, blah. 

I think many guys have a harder time portraying real, honest relationships on stage than most women do. (Note carefully chosen qualifiers.) And for the ones who do, one of a few things is likely to happen: 
  • They choose more intense relationships, because it's easier to telegraph extreme emotions. Romantic relationships—gay or straight—fit that bill. 
  • They don't show—they tell. The emotion of the relationships exists in the narrative and the dialogue, and not in the acting.
  • Because the scene-and-humor-driving changes their characters experience don't result from relationships, there's more pressure to manufacture laughs with dialogue and situations. Which. Is. Hard.
As guys get more experience, become more comfortable with their troupes, and build their acting chops, their emotional range increases. Watch strong male improvisers—they're the ones most willing to be vulnerable. They're the ones making connections—allowing themselves to be excited, tortured, pleased, flustered, destroyed and otherwise affected by their scene partners.  

7 comments:

  1. Semi-random thought #1: There's a lot of all-male improv in KC (and a whole lot of other places), and it doesn't seem like I see a lot of guy-on-guy action in scenes. I mean some—and too often played for laughs instead of as a real relationship—but it doesn't seem pervasive.

    Actually, there is not. Fakers/Scriptease may be the only one and they are well-trained. Every other group in town has at least one woman. Still, I think my comment is accurate. Without a woman in a troupe, there is a high chance of gayness. I know the males I perform with don't enjoy playing woman, so just having a woman, and a fantastic one at that, eases the mind.

    I also feel that men that are not comfortable playing women fear the gayness that could come out if no woman is present. Maybe it's just the people I perform with. But honestly over time and performances, all that fear goes away.

    I love being a woman. On stage even.

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  2. I agree with the clothing sentiment. True story: I was once dumped because my dress and persona were "not feminine enough". These days I embrace skirts and girly shoes on a regular basis, but I love to rock t-shirts and jeans. Ah, t-shirts, they can go wrong so quickly: bad necklines, weird puffy sleeves, and bows. Why, God, why? If I'm going casual, I just want a t-shirt. A black one. One day I may open a store that sells nothing but perfect black t-shirts.

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  3. In a surprise to me, I've heard from multiple sources as of late, that my woman characters are getting very real. Too real, Patricia says.

    Its totally a comfort with your troupe thing. There's been so much gender/orientation bending at I-A lately, its hard to keep tabs on it. And even better, in some scenes when two male actors are engaging in a romantic encounter, its played so real that you can't necessarily tell if they're both gay or of one is a girl. IMHO, that's how it should be.

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  4. Guess I'm chic-er than I ever knew.

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  5. Jared: Didn't say all-male TROUPE...said all-male IMPROV. The percentage of chicks is still pretty low—in Thunderdome, only the final night had troupes with girls in two out of three. Why do you think guys feel like they HAVE TO resort to romantic relationships?

    Caroline: I will be your best customer when you open that store. Please have a loyalty program.

    Scott: Why "as it should be"? Do you not think gender is an important part of character choice?

    Nik: True dat.

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  6. Why do you think guys feel like they HAVE TO resort to romantic relationships?

    Because guys are guys. Romantic relationships = hard work.

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  7. Why "as it should be"? Do you not think gender is an important part of character choice?

    It is, but playing too much to the gender can hinder actual character development. How many friends do you have that are good people that just happen to be a boy or just happen to be gay? Its a trait, not THE trait.

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