Following the Black Lives Matter protests we spent some time talking to a number of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic teachers, performers and students to ask them how we could improve things for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic improvisers at Hoopla. We also shared a questionnaire throughout our wider audience in order to gather a wide range of views.
What follows is an open and transparent write up of what we were already doing at Hoopla to support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic improvisers, some new improvements we now plan to make, and also some additional points that popped up from the questionnaire.
Main page for our work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Improvisers: https://www.hooplaimpro.com/BAME
You can also contact us at any point to discuss anything here.
First of all a massive THANK YOU to everyone involved with this, especially Monica Gaga, Tai Campbell and Athena Kugblenu on the Do The Right Scene Team at Hoopla who have been doing an amazing job with shows and workshops for BIPOC/BAME improvisers over the last 2-3 years. Special thanks to Monica for your additional help with us making additional improvements for the future.
Also massive thank you to Angela Pollard our Producer for all your hard work on this over the years.
And thank you to Bruce Tang from Comediasians for additional help on the phone over the last couple of weeks and your fantastic input.
And more bonus thanks to all of our teachers, performers, students and more who filled in the questionnaire or spoke with us over the last couple of weeks.
Things we were doing before this summer and will continue to do:
Over the last 2-3 years the Do the Right Scene team with Hoopla have been running a monthly show for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic improvisers. This has created a fantastic community of improvisers that have also gone on to create their own shows. This show is now moving to be one of Hoopla’s weekend main-stage shows. >> more details
Over the last 2-3 years the Do the Right Scene team with Hoopla have also been running a monthly workshop for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic improvisers. This workshop is now free to the participants, and is self-funded by Hoopla to make sure the teachers are paid but it remains open and accessible to all. Many of these improvisers go on to perform at the Do the Right Scene show and with other groups. >> more details
Since March we have been fundraising for a Diversity & Inclusion Improv Outreach Worker and this project should be ready to start soon after lockdown. This is being crowd-funded and also part-funded by Hoopla. Their job will be to bring improv to people of different backgrounds, including BIPOC/BAME, in different areas around London and the UK, and will bring more people of diverse backgrounds to the wider improv scene. This is the main area we need financial help with as we can’t afford this ourselves, so donations are welcome. >> more details
We provide diversity scholarships in the form of free or discounted places to people from various backgrounds including BIPOC/BAME. These are self-funded by Hoopla and have a very simple application process. We never say no to someone asking for a discounted place and are always happy to help. >> more details
We have some Black or Asian teachers including Monica Gaga (core teacher doing all levels), Tai Campbell (running Do the Right Scene workshops and some corporate training), Athena Kugblenu (Do the Right Scene workshops), Edgar Fernando (Hoopla co-founder, now running workshops in Manchester) and Mandeep Singh (cover teaching). The overall percentage of our Black and Asian teachers though was too low so we are keen to improve this after lockdown. >> more details
Code of Conduct
A number of years ago (not sure when) we drew up an extensive code of conduct for our teachers, performers and students to help prevent racism in improv workshops and shows, this is constantly updated with feedback and we will be reviewing (incorporating your responses) and retraining again before our courses come back post-lockdown.
Improving Diversity of House Teams:
Our earlier house teams (Gamez, Descendants, Johnson Lane) had too low a percentage of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic performers so we tried to fix that last year with our newer house teams (Aquarium, Nomads, Bollyprov and Michelle). There are other changes we are going to make to that process, see improvements below.
When booking shows we try to maintain diversity across the nights and across the week by balancing groups. We didn’t previously feel we could control the cast or diversity within independent groups we didn’t produce ourselves, but did try to balance diversity across the night. However, this assumption has changed and there are more details about this in improvements below. >> more details
Additional details on our existing work at https://www.hooplaimpro.com/BAME
Key improvements for the future:
We will be gradually increasing the number of hours for our existing Black & Asian teachers after lockdown, and also recruiting new BIPOC/BAME teachers as (hopefully) the improv scene bounces back from lockdown. This will help inspire future students. >> more details
Improving diversity of house teams
- We are accelerating the progression of our newer house teams that already have a good diversity of cast.
- We are helping earlier house teams improve the diversity of their cast.
- We will have at least one Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic improviser on all audition decision panels for all future house teams.
- We will make sure our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students are aware of performing opportunities and auditions.
- We are now running additional accelerator scholarships and ongoing mentorship to help Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic improvisers reach a professional performing level.
- We are improving communication and training with teachers to make sure they are fully aware of our diversity program and are in a position to encourage students from different backgrounds into performing at our shows.
Improving diversity of weekend shows
- Do the Right Scene’s monthly show has now become of our main weekend main-stage shows!
- Other groups that have a good diversity of cast will be accelerated into our weekend main event shows.
- We will be reaching out to other groups from around the UK to come and perform at Hoopla.
- Integration to be encouraged and facilitated between groups, so cast members from different groups work together and improve the overall improv scene.
- We are also helping our regular independent and guest groups, especially long-standing weekend regulars, to improve the diversity of their cast,
There was a lot of support on the questionnaire for the outreach worker project. In addition to our current plans there were some great ideas about also bringing our BIPOC teachers to areas outside of London to help inspire different communities and build up Improviser of Colour (IOC) communities across the UK. There is also a desire to bring existing diverse groups to non-improv spaces like festivals and cultural events and make them more visible.
Additional training for staff and students
- We will run regular free diversity & inclusion, subconscious bias and cultural awareness training for our teachers and students, using an external trainer.
- We will also be setting up additional workshops and shows for people who have English as a Second Language and building a stronger community for our international improvisers. A number of you have been in touch about running that with us so we will try and get a meeting together before our shows are back and get that up and running as soon as possible.
Additional details at https://www.hooplaimpro.com/BAME
Additional Points from Questionnaire
Some people liked the term BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic), some prefer BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and some don’t like either term at all. So we are using all terms interchangeably across our site at the moment, as there isn’t one term that works for all or represents all. It was felt it was more important to get the work done than get stuck on this.
Marketing Angles of Shows
This was a really interesting point from the questionnaire. Some people loved having shows that were clearly angled as being for BIPOC/BAME improvisers as they felt empowered in that community and thought it was a great beacon to other improvisers. Others though felt there was a danger that it means improv has segregation if we don’t then have integration of that cast across other shows and nights.
So what we’re aiming to do a bit of both. Some nights/shows will be clearly celebrating people from different ethnicity or have a cultural angle, but others will have just happen to have a strong Black/Asian/Minority Ethnic cast but we don’t really mention that in marketing.
The longer-term plan for Hoopla is that having casts with a strong diversity of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people on the team is normal across all nights regardless of the type of the show.
There were a couple of concerns in the questionnaire about being on the cast of a House Team because of being the “token black person”. We can assure you that this is not the case for our House Teams. We do put efforts into encouraging more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic into auditions but once at audition all decisions are made based on your improv, and if you are in the cast of a show it is because you did great at the audition and we want you in the team.
One of the questionnaire ideas was to publish or promote improv resources that tackle the common ‘but why can’t I say x or do y’ queries and other queries regards diversity and inclusion in improv. We think this is a great idea so will be adding over this year.
Changing humour to match audiences
Some people in our questionnaire felt a pressure to change their jokes/humour to match with a white British sense of humour. They feel like they aren’t able to use their culture. We want our students to be able to embrace different experiences and references, but there is a fear sometimes that creating a “safe space” accidentally cancels out all mentions of race and therefore a big chunk of many student’s life experiences. We’re going to seek advice on this point from our Black and Asian teachers and students and then re-train our other teachers on this so we have a clearer policy.
If you need help improving the diversity of your cast
If you run an improv group and would like to improve the diversity of your cast we can help you by recommending people and introducing you to people in our community including a number of professional highly experienced actors and improvisers from a BIPOC/BAME background.
If you’d like help please email the following people:
Monica, Tai and Athena, Do the Right Scene Team, firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Pollard (Producer), email@example.com
Jessie Rutland (Training Manager), firstname.lastname@example.org
How you can help
Share what we do on social media.
Improve the diversity of your improv group (see above for help with that).
Contact us if there is anything else you would like us to do.
Additional details at https://www.hooplaimpro.com/BAME