Bird City Improv is committed to teaching and creating theatre that is rooted in community. We believe that elevating diverse stories and including a range of perspectives is non-negotiable. Improv is an artform of freedom. As such, we are dedicated to creating spaces where individuals feel liberated - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We want improvisers to feel empowered, to access their own creative voice, and be inspired by their experiences.
Our company's motto is "a high tide raises all ships," meaning that for everyone to succeed, we need to create an environment that is radically honest, accessible, and supportive for all. Striving towards that goal, we make every attempt to:
Deconstruct harmful biases and power structures that creep into the artmaking process.
Recognize the history of oppression within the arts and its impact on the present day.
Decenter whiteness and rethink patriarchal structures, simultaneously highlighting innovations, new and old, from marginalized artists and the global majority.
Establish brave spaces for compassionate dialogue and difficult conversations.
Afford all students the time to listen, adapt, and grow.
Reduce potential harm to improvisers' mental and emotional health by prioritizing equity and honoring individual student boundaries.
Advocate for social justice.
Dismantle our own problematic ways of thought, through continued research, education, and introspection.
The work is never done, and we recognize that our approach will not be perfect, but we remain resolute in our commitment to change. In our programming and our classes we practice anti-oppression. We strive to balance ignorance, trauma, and bias with knowledge, compassion, and curiosity. We want to cultivate a space where everyone feels heard, invited, and valued. We want our improv company to foster personal wellness and social consciousness, to understand the connective tissue between individual liberation and radical social change.
Actions speak louder than words; below is an outline of our practices and policies.
All Bird City Improv classes are flex-priced, including free and pay-what-you-can options. We believe in decreasing classist barriers to entry in the arts. No one should be denied the opportunity to create and commune because they don't have the cash. We don't believe students should compete for scholarships or resources. We believe in open access creativity.
Bird City openly shares resources. We believe freely sharing knowledge, skills, and insight is necessary to create a thriving arts community.
Bird City believes that improvisers should play above their worry, but beneath their panic. Artmaking can be inspired and cathartic, but should not be triggering or traumatic. All students have a right to disengage from any activity, regardless of their reason. Students never need to explain a boundary and all boundaries will be honored.
Bird City prioritizes mental wellness. We welcome people as their whole selves. We believe that improvisers are not limited nor defined by mental illness. We also eschew the fetishization of the "tortured artist" and "mad genius" archetypes. We do not believe individuals need to suffer for their art. We believe art making should be tied to joy and catharsis. We openly discuss the importance of mental health and self care, holding space for individuals to process their experiences without judgment, and providing resources for students who may be struggling.
We welcome all genders and orientations. We give students the opportunity to share their pronouns, if they wish. We eschew sexist and gendered stereotypes that exploit pain and struggle for laughter.
We welcome students who have disabilities, who are neurodivergent, or have other specific needs. We avoid ableist language and characterizations on and off stage. When needed, we adapt classes and activities to meet the needs of ours students and maximize participation. If you have a question about accessibility email email@example.com or call +1 (443) 379-4198.
We welcome students of all ages, including older adult students. We believe that older adults make exceptional improvisers because they have a lifetime of experiences to draw upon. We believe younger students are just as capable and innovative as their elders, and that multigenerational improv is simply better improv.
In theatre and comedy, many narratives reinforce white normativity, a depiction of the world that normalizes white culture and upholds white supremacy, while alienating, exotifying, fetishizing, or exploiting BIPOC cultures. We are committed to creating spaces where a spectrum of narratives may be explored onstage and in our learning. We make sure to provide a diverse range of learning resources for students, while guiding them away from comedy that is racist, xenophobic, and bigoted.
Native Land Recognition
Every class begins with Native Land recognition, where we pay respect to the Indigenous Peoples who lived in the areas we now call home before settler colonialism and American genocide. Bird City Improv is based in Baltimore, which is the land of the Susquehannock, Piscataway, and Nentego tribes. We call these tribes by their names because we recognize that Indigenous People are not a monolith as our cultural mythology suggests. In fact, there are 573 tribal nations recognized by the United States government. To learn more about the history of the Native Land you live on click here.
Bird City Improv classes begin with mindfulness exercises, priming us to check in with ourselves, advocate for our needs, and listen our collaborators. We pay homage to the cultures that introduced mindful-based practices to us, primarily Buddhist and Hindu cultures, from which many of our westernized practices are derived.
Bird City Improv makes every attempt to highlight improv's applications to the real world. We believe improv can teach people to be better listeners and communicators, navigate conflict, facilitate deeper conversation, increase cultural competency, and self confidence. All of our classes feature elements of Applied Improvisation.
We are committed to eliminating gendered language from our pedagogy, as well as language that reinforces problematic ways of thinking about mental health, race, class, ability, and age. We are conscientious of how language reinforces systems of oppression and strive to create or adopt terminology that is progressive.
Bird City Improv divests from the notion that theatre must be created in a hierarchy, where the director or teacher has final say in the creative process. Rather, Bird City Improv believes in non-hierarchical collaboration, where art is created democratically and by committee, where the ensemble has group ownership over what is created. We facilitate this collaboration using peer-to-peer critical response processes, non-violent communication, and a mindset of affirmation and possibility.
Social Justice Improv
When performances address social justice themes, we take care to prioritize empathy and compassion. We want such performances to center the issue and speak truth to power. We strive to teach students the difference between theatre that "punches up" (attacks systems of oppression) vs. theatre that "punches down" (exploits trauma). We discuss narratives that reinforce oppression through ignorance, bias, microaggressions, and stereotyping. We discuss how humor can be used to reinforce oppression through emotional and gaslighting abuse. We teach students how to create improv through a values-based process.
Decentering Whiteness & Male Hegemony
Bird City Improv believes in sharing a history of improvisation and theatre that decenters whiteness and interrupts male hegemony. We do not believe a singular group can lay claim to improvisation; all cultures have their own improvisational processes and to ignore that truth is to perpetuate oppression. However, many schools and historical texts center white male contributions to the artform, ignoring or erasing contributions from women, Black people, Indigenous people, People of Color, LGBTQ+ and their intersections. To combat Eurocentric models of history, Bird City Improv takes the following actions:
Defines improv as "an intentional technique for finding potential in what is readily available." We believe this definition helps to include all improvisational methods regardless of culture, genre, medium, or style.
Acknowledges that all people improvise, intentionally or incidentally, everyday.
Acknowledges that theatre began in Africa along with civilization and the storytelling traditions of humanity's ancestors.
Acknowledges that gender has nothing to do with humor or theatrical ability. All people can be funny. All people have stories to tell.
Acknowledges that that contemporary theatrical improvisation began as a collaboration between three women: Neva Boyd, Viola Spolin, and Jane Adams.
Eschews the history of improvisation that is recounted as a sea of white faces.
Includes BIPOC artists in the history of theatrical improvisation.
Includes discussions of musical forms of improvisation - like jazz, hip-hop, and dance - which are often omitted from improv history in lieu of theatrical styles.
Denounces problematic historical figures in the arts, particularly those that have been venerated and deified despite their harmful practices. Del Close is one such figure.
Acknowledges that minstrelsy was the first theatrical form and style invented in the United States. It popularized blackface and racial stereotyping - the traumatic legacy of which can still be felt in today's storytelling.
Acknowledges the correlation between social justice and representation in the arts. The struggle for representation of marginalized communities and diverse narratives is paramount.
Avoids white normativity in scene work, discussion, and teacher feedback.
Includes diverse learning materials from a wide range of artists and scholars.
For information about diversity in improv history, check out our resources below. Contact us if you would like a PDF excerpt of any print resources.
In the event that a student engages in harmful or problematic behavior, Bird City Improv will directly address the issue. Bird City believes patient, values-based dialogue and non-violent communication can help students realize biases and problematic actions. However, if a student is unwilling to take accountability and change their behavior after the issue has been addressed, they will be removed.
Openness & Accountability
We welcome feedback, suggestions, feedback, concerns, and reports from any community members. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to express a concern anonymously click here. We promise to listen to all feedback nondefensively with an open heart and mind, taking action when needed, and working to finding a resolution. If we mess up, we apologize. If we were ignorant, we learn. If we can help, we will.
Bird City Improv is here to listen, adapt, and grow. If you have a suggestion or if you would like to report an instance of harassment, inequity, or injustice, please reach out. Bird City does not retaliate against reporters. We treat such reporting with discretion and subsequent action will be informed by the reporter's wishes.
Bird City Improv is small right now. Occasionally we contract improvisers to teach and perform. When we do, we strive to hire a diverse range of artists who are experienced and embody our anti-oppressive values.
Want to learn more? Linked here are some resources for continued learning. They are not fully comprehensive nor exhaustive, but for us they were powerful resources for understanding anti-oppression as a creative process.
How We Work
What We Hope
We hope our anti-oppression practices and policies establish welcoming, creative, and empowered virtual spaces, providing social outlets for anyone who is in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, we hope to add more teaching artists to our roster, offering students a diverse range of experienced facilitators with unique skillsets.
Post-COVID, we aim to increase our community engagement through partnerships and co-productions. We dream of satellite classrooms scattered throughout the City of Baltimore, providing access to improv in every direction. We dream of producing new works of theatre, generated by the community for the community, in DIY spaces throughout Baltimore.
We do not want to franchise, gentrify, or colonize neighborhoods. Rather, we hope to support learners in becoming independent, self-producing artists. Our dream is that we could form community bonds in a neighborhood, establish a satellite classroom, offer learning experiences, share resources, and help produce new work with the ultimate goal of leaving those responsibilities in the hands of community members. We want to empower ensembles to operate autonomously. In such an event, of course, we would continue to support those ensembles, but as old friends, rather than supervisors.