Merkel’s feminist improv classes seek to center those who are marginalized by the mainstream improv comedy world. Her workshops are open to all levels of experience, welcoming performers and non-performers alike. Merkel believes in improv that is non-hierarchal, consent-oriented and liberation-driven.
n o n – h i e r a r c h i c a l
Merkel organizes her classes in the style and tradition of Viola Spolin, who said “We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything.” While there is a leader who structures each class and leads each exercise, the teacher/student relationship in our learning structure is horizontal, not vertical. We acknowledge that everyone in the room has their own unique expertise and experience, so the learning in our workshops comes out of discussion of our shared experiences of the exercises.
c o n s e n t – o r i e n t e d
Merkel believes that the imperative of most improv schools (not to mention tech companies, start-ups, writers’ rooms etc.) to say “Yes, and…” creates a culture of coercion under which the conditions of oppression are re-inscribed. This makes those spaces particularly unsafe for womxn, queer and gender non-conforming folx and people of color. Her current answer to this is to borrow from the Intimacy Directors International organization and operate on the principle of “Yes, and…” OR “no, but…” In other words, you always have a choice of how to respond to offers in exercises, and both options (“Yes, and…” or “No, but…”) are equally valid and creative.
l i b e r a t i o n – d r i v e n
Merkel’s intention for her classes is that they be a process in which we liberate each other from the need for approval from others (authority figures, audience, etc.). Spolin said, “True personal freedom and self-expression can flower only in an atmosphere where attitudes permit equality between student and teacher and the dependencies of teacher for student and student for teacher are done away with. The problems within the subject matter will teach both of them.”