I’ve been performing improv comedy for over a decade here in New York City and out in Los Angeles as well, and I love it. There is something so incredible about witnessing the living, breathing, rarely predictable organism that is totally unscripted live theatre. Anything can happen. Truly.
I had just gotten done performing one of my shows not too long ago, and I had decided to stay for the musical improv set that followed. Once the audience had packed the house, and the stage lights had come up, one of those incredible, and unpredictable nights began to unfold.
The team asked for a suggestion from the audience, and off of their suggestion, they began to riff different melodies, different hooks, while conversationally asking one another idea-inciting questions. One of two male performers on the team of seven, stopped the piano accompaniment to ask, genuinely, if he could get “real” for a moment. The team looked at one another, sensing his sincerity, and with the audience’s blessing, allowed him to continue, and made the decision to just go with wherever he was going to take them.
He said that he had seen that one of his friends, a girl, had posted her story within the “Me Too” social media campaign. He was shocked. As her dear friend, he had no idea what she had gone through, nor did he know what to say or do for her now that he knew. He didn’t know how to be a “typical guy,” in his words, without seeming insensitive. One of the women on his team reassured him that just by asking that question, he had showed his concern for more than just his friend, but for the campaign, and gender relations as a whole. It was a good place to start.
And start it did.
The “show” that unfolded next, was one of the most powerful things that I have seen on a New York City stage in my ten-plus years of living here. Every single female on his improv team stepped forward and tearfully told their story of having been touched inappropriately, attacked, date-raped, or a victim of incest. People from the audience began to speak out and tell their stories. There were men who came forward as well. The team eventually sat in an arc on the floor, while the audience closed the circle with their contribution. There were hugs and tears and hand-holding and support. There was shock and sadness and empathy and sympathy and vulnerability and compassion. There was good touch. Healing touch. Human touch. People becoming aware of the staggering amount of violence that we have either witnessed or endured. People becoming aware of their own voice and how it can release what we’ve pent up and locked away in shame. People becoming aware of the stories of other people, and being slower to judge, and quicker to feel for their fellow man. Woman. HU-MAN. It was a night of revelation. A night of connection. A night of recognizing and reflecting what we all have inside of us…love. The desire to love, and be loved. The desire to be love.
The beautiful forbearers of the “Me Too” movement, the “Times Up” movement, and ALL of those who made the brave decision for themselves in the absence of any movement, have allowed brilliant, incredible space to exorcise that which we have tried—some of us for years—to cram to the back of our subconscious, lock away, and swallow the key. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Our minds, our bodies, our hearts do not forget. I’m not advocating wallowing in one period of time, by any means. It is just as unhealthy and exhausting to dwell in the space in which victimhood carves out its suffocating niche, than to live with the ramifications of having tried to compartmentalize something so corrosive that it leaks its toxic waste into other areas of your life. Believe me, I speak from experience when I say that there is rarely a way around, over or under...you have to move through. Whether it be talking to a trusted friend, a medical professional, letting it speak through artwork, or creativity, or screaming into the Grand Canyon, you have to move through. It has to get out. Take your trauma out of the lock box, exorcise it from your being. Let it be true that we are so much more than just one experience, or just one period of time. Let it be true that we are love. And that we can love. And that we have started with the person most worthy to us; ourselves.
Deep appreciation to the beautiful leaders in this new zeitgeist, that there is now space for our voices to be heard. There is now space for us to be able to purge, and soothe and heal. There is now space for us to truly breathe. To truly be free. To truly love and be loved. To truly be love.
By the end of the Improv show, the gentleman who had asked if he could get “real” had gotten more than just a taste of reality. He had unknowingly, but thankfully, been the conduit for a reality that so many people did not know existed in such exponential numbers. A reality that we finally have space to hear, see, touch and soothe. A reality that, with this burgeoning awareness, can hopefully dissipate into a rarity.
A reality in which the only true antidote to violence is love.
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]