Improv has historically struggled to be diverse. When I started doing improv 25 years ago, the art form was predominantly practiced by white cisgender males, mostly in their 20s and 30s.
Over the last decade, and especially in the last five years or so, the improv world has become more diverse, both through conscious effort and simply due to the fact that it has reached mainstream awareness. Many improv organizations have been working hard to reach out to demographics who did not previously have access or awareness of improv. Improv has also recently been introduced to other continents, making progress towards becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
Like the rest of the improv world, Monkey Business Institute can only benefit from more diversity. While we have a long way to go as far as racial, cultural and lifestyle diversity, we have made significant progress in a couple areas. It took several years after we formed to bring in our first female performer. Today, 46% of our onstage performers are women! We also are more age-diverse, having performers in their 20s all the way up to a couple 50-somethings.
Off the stage, we’re noticing changes as well. Our classes are more diverse than they used to be, which is good news in a city like Madison that is predominantly Caucasian. We have done improv work with disadvantaged, mixed-race youth through Goodman Center and area alternative high schools. We’ve done shows at Nuestro Mundo Community School, where many of the students are bilingual spanish/english speakers. We have run workshops for people with physical and mental disabilities.
But there can be no denying that we have a long way to go. We need to do more if we are to make significant strides in diversity. One thing we’ve started to do is offer scholarships for our improv classes. We understand that one reason our classes aren’t as diverse as they could be is due to economic reasons. We hope that financial aid might help someone who otherwise could not afford our classes.
I am also in the preliminary stages of exploring the viability of starting up a non-profit version of MBI. Many organizations cannot afford the fees for our shows, classes and playshops. While we are glad to offer discounts when we can, we have to limit how many we offer if we are to stay afloat as a business. The hope for a non-profit branch is that we’d be able to apply for grants and endowments so that we can spread the joy of improv to more diverse populations in our region.
Have a great 2018 everyone!