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date: 23 July 2017

Abstract and Keywords

As taught by Viola Spolin, Keith Johnstone, and others, improv is a mode of playing that depends on group consensus, through such concepts as “agreement” and “groupmind,” as a basis for the release of individual creativity and the freedom to bypass both internal and external censorship. Improv comedy on stage, however, most often reflects the white, male, heterosexual perspective of its dominant players. This article explores the “spontaneous” performances of gender and race in improv comedy in light of power dynamics that often silence difference and encourage shallow stereotypes. Using Judith Butler’s theories and other approaches, the chapter then discusses improv’s potential for deconstructing gender performance. Detailed analysis of the work of the all-female improv troupe, JANE, reveals the wealth and variety of characters that can be improvised when choices of gesture, voice, and body language are playfully recombined across conventions of gender and sexuality.

Keywords: improv comedy, gender stereotypes, gender performance, cross-gender performance, racial stereotypes, groupmind, groupthink, yes—and, agreement, body image

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