Monday, November 28, 2011

Tina Fey: Sexism and The Second City

Over the holiday weekend I finished Tina Fey's magnificent and funny book, Bossypants. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in acting, improv, TV, breathing and life.

I knew she had some insights in there similar to my own about the application of improv principles to the workplace. And I was actually surprised at just how similarly we treated the subject in places. For instance, on the topic of agreement, I say:
"If your scene partner says, 'Man, it's hot out here!" you can respond in one of two ways: 'Yeah, I'm sweating like a Pennsylvania steelworker in July!' (right) or 'Really? I find the temperature quite agreeable' (wrong)."
Meanwhile, Tina gives this advice in reference to the principle of YES, AND:
"If I start a scene with 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you just say, 'Yeah...' we're kind of at a standstill. But if I say, 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you say, 'What did you expect? We're in hell,' now we're getting somewhere."
Obviously, Tina Fey is a very insightful person. And way funnier than I am.

Another similarity I found in our experiences at Second City is that we both encountered narrow-minded authority figures identifying what they viewed as our limitations. For me, it was my age. For Tina, it was her uterus.

She observed:
"Of all the places I've worked that were supposedly boys' clubs, The Second City was the only one where I experienced institutionalized gender nonsense. For example, a director of one of the main companies once justified cutting a scene by saying, 'The audience doesn't want to see a scene between two women.' Whaaa?"
She goes on to discuss the groundbreaking milestone she had a part in: Second City's first 50/50 male/female cast.

Amazing.

Of course, being a dude, I never encountered much sexism there, but the conventional, limited thinking from which it stems? Yeah, there was plenty of that. Not more than most organizations of its size and age, but more than you might expect from a place that prides itself on creativity.

Regarding sexism, I had the pleasure of taking a couple of classes with the wonderful Mary Scruggs. One day a fellow student -- a male, needless to say -- complained that he couldn't write woman characters. Personally, my eyeballs are incapable of rolling back far enough in my head to give this trite observation the mocking skepticism that it deserves.

But Mary, ever pleasant and frank, simply advised him, in essence, "Write the character as a man then change the name to Susan."

Brilliant.

I'm actually writing a letter to Tina. I don't know if it will get to her, but I want to give it a try.

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