All Ability Jam: We want to support you!

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Starting on March 9, 2019, AllProv will host a monthly All Ability Jam at Grafenberg Productions. on the second Saturday of each month at 7pm. Audience members can volunteer to play with performers on stage. AllProv’s troupe, Staircase Contest, will perform with a special guest storyteller in the Jam’s closing act.

When Grafenberg Productions’ director, Justin Franzen, first approached me and board member Elizabeth Komos about making modifications to his theater so AllProv could host an All Ability Jam, I was very excited! Making venues accessible to all performers is important and it is entirely too rare of an occurrence. If you aren’t a performer with a physical disability, you may not be aware that many stages are not wheelchair accessible. However, that is the unfortunate state of things.

 However, does a ramp automatically make an event accessible? How does a ramp promote equity and empowerment? I believe that a ramp and building modifications are necessary (but not sufficient) to reach the goals of equity and empowerment.

My hope for the All Ability Jam, is that we (Staircase Contest performers and coach) push ourselves to be inclusive and empowering to all in ways that extend beyond having physical access. For one, the Jam will feature performers of all abilities/disabilities. Some of us have visible disabilities, some invisible, and some do not identify as having a disability. Performing together is one way to break down silos and learn from each other. We all have unique creative voices that should be shared! My hope for AllProv is that we help to build a supportive community so all feel welcome to watch our show or join in the Jam. I want you to feel good about the show but even more importantly, I want you to feel good about who you are!

 Check the blog later for an upcomimg post on Creating Characters without Stereotypes and how that is one of my goals as a performer and coach. That is just one more (seemingly small) move towards equity and empowerment.


Thoughts on Girls Improv camp

Students from Girls Improv 2018 

Students from Girls Improv 2018 

If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets, and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage. – Del Close

When we behave as through our scene partners are intelligent and creative, that very behavior will encourage others’ creativity and intelligence to come out and shine. This attitude was integral to how Elizabeth Komos and I approached leading the week-long Girls Improv camp with the Athena Project. Adolescent girls are often given messages from society and it usually isn’t that they are geniuses and poets; the media often portrays girls and women as less kind, funny, and intelligent than men. By dismissing preconceptions about the abilities of girls and having faith in their inherent creativity, I hope we helped the students to exceed any self-limiting beliefs they held.

There are plenty of assumptions about the abilities and interests of young people in improv. Typically, teen improv groups focus almost exclusively on short-form or game based improv. I must say that scenic-based improv can be more challenging to teach. While improv games have distinct parameters and clear instructions, the “rules” of scenic or “long-form” improv are flexible and nebulous. There is nothing wrong with teaching short-form – it can be lots of fun and we did play many improv games.  However, in my personal experience, the real joy of improv comes from the creation of scenes with characters and relationships. The students made such beautiful discoveries and experienced such growth in class with these scenes. Although they also enjoyed the short-form games, I think they relished the freedom that creating a character and scene allowed. It would have been such a shame to assume that they don’t have the ability or interest to do them and leave scenic improv out of the curriculum.

Treating anyone like a genius and poet necessitates giving the support needed for them to access their own creativity. We attempted to give the freedom to create and explore with the support needed to build confidence and skills. Here are some of the principles we used when instructing Girls Improv:

·      Engagement first and foremost. If the students weren’t engaged, no amount of other planning would matter. That is why fun was central to our curriculum.

·      Mix it up! 6 hours per day of improv class is a lot – for adults and especially for kids. That’s why we would intersperse exercises where the students would likely be challenged with fun and simple warm-ups and games. Brain breaks are important for all of us.

·      Create a curriculum. Know when to stick to it and when to throw it away. Even if I love an exercise, if it is not resonating with the students then it isn’t the right one to use at that time.

·      Break every exercise into its component parts. And then break down those components into their components. Start there. See how the students are taking it in. You may find that you can move more quickly. However, if not, that’s ok too. This approach seems to build students’ confidence and skills. (This is related to the educational concept of scaffolding that I learned as an educator at Camp Yes And with Dr. Jim Ansaldo and Lacy Alana, LCSW. They do a wonderful job of using this concept in the development of their programs.)

·      Kids (and adults) do enjoy a challenge. It was actually a bit surprising how much the girls seemed to enjoy exercises that pushed them a little out of their comfort zone. Each day we would do a wrap-up activity when we would ask each student to share their favorite part of the day and I was often surprised to hear, it was the challenging exercises where they learned new skills and not the “fun and easy stuff” that was a favorite.

·      Just let them create! We didn’t censor their content – we let them create new universes and characters that were bizarre and beautiful. Sometimes, their content was a little dark and we let them explore the dark side of things. (Had there been any content that was hurtful to others, we would have intervened. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.)

·      Let go of your agenda. Before we began the week, Liz and I had this grand idea for teaching a challenging format by the end of the week. However, that format would have been far too challenging and the students would have just been frustrated without the accompanying growth. So, Liz and I gave up that agenda and created a format for their show that allowed the students to have fun on stage AND still use the skills we wanted to impart. Say “yes” to challenge AND remember that the challenge must fit the needs of the students (and not the ego of the instructors).

There are plenty of negative stereotypes about adolescent girls that get reinforced regularly and it is time to bury those ideas. The students were kind, supportive, and ready to learn. If the students in our class were in any way representative of their generation, we should feel really good about what is to come. These girls showed wisdom, creativity, and capacity for depth – in short, they were all geniuses, poets, and artists.


Students from Girls Improv 2018 in their Favorite After Lunch Spot.

Students from Girls Improv 2018 in their Favorite After Lunch Spot.

Why is AllProv forming an inclusive troupe?

Connect with Others who want to ExplorE Creativity in ALlPROV's Inclusive Troupe.

Connect with Others who want to ExplorE Creativity in ALlPROV's Inclusive Troupe.

I am very excited to coach an inclusive improv troupe that AllProv will be sponsoring! Our goal is to empower individuals with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental health issues in our inclusive troupe through creative expression.

What do we mean by inclusive?  

  1. We will create IMPROV that is fun, creative, and doesn’t tear people down to get a laugh

  2. We will only rehearse and perform in spaces that are ADA accessible

As someone with multiple disabilites (ranging from chronic pain and decreased range of motion to some lingering effects of TBI), I I have witnessed and experienced discrimination towards improvisers who communicate, process ideas, or move differently. By prioritizing the inclusion of those who often are given limited opportunities, we will build a troupe with a unique creative voice. AllProv seeks to create a troupe where every member feels supported and empowered to express themselves.

If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about this troupe, join us Saturday 2/10/18 at DRIP coffee. If you can't make the meeting but are still interested in joining, email .

-Erin Rafaels

Starting with Why

“And it all starts from the inside out. It all starts with Why.” – Simon Sinek, Start with Why

Caption: Allprov’s Golden (Purple) Circle. The Golden Circle is a concept to describe organizations as explained by Simon Sinek in  Start with Why . Everything an organization does should stem from the WHY or purpose of the organization.

Caption: Allprov’s Golden (Purple) Circle. The Golden Circle is a concept to describe organizations as explained by Simon Sinek in Start with Why. Everything an organization does should stem from the WHY or purpose of the organization.

What you see above is ostensibly the “Why” of Allprov – making improv accessible to everyone. However, this reason doesn’t fully explain my purpose in founding Allprov. Our purpose also relates to the WHY of improvisation- after all, why should people learn improv and not some other creative form? And my answer to that, of course, is “Yes, AND” – yes – you should learn another creative form AND you should study improvisation. I hope the reasons to study improv will become clearer the more you learn about the topic. The “WHY improv?” question, and more specifically – the matter of “WHY Allprov?” is a multi-dimensional idea. I will be using this blog to work out those dimensions in the coming weeks and months. 

But to get us started - here are some dimensions of WHY Allprov was founded:

Dimension 1: Let’s break down barriers! Marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and those with few socioeconomic options, frequently encounter barriers to reaching their goals – whether that goal is obtaining groceries, receiving health care, or accessing the arts.

Dimension 2: I love improv and want to share it with anyone willing to listen or watch! Perhaps more on point is that improv seems to have MANY benefits for people who learn this art form. I plan on writing many articles about those benefits – both ones I have experienced personally and those that are being researched in universities.  

Dimension 3: Improv needs Diversity! And more broadly, the arts need diversity. I’ve seen enough improv shows featuring able-bodied white guys where the only diversity is in the length of their beards and the color of their flannels. When the improvisers have different abilities/disabilities, races, and genders, shows can be funnier and more compelling. Improv is an art form where the performers’ life experiences really matter in creating scenes on stage. If an improv community has only performers with similar life experiences, there isn’t as much room for learning and innovation.

Well, that’s a brief summary of the WHY for Allprov. More to come :-)