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ReClaim September: Alyssa DiVirgilio from Blackout Improv

Alyssa DiVirgilio , a member of Blackout Improv, shared some thoughts with CFPA via email about why she joined Blackout, how to ask hard questions, the role of comedy in the world, and what you might expect from their upcoming workshop at CFPA, September 15th from 3-5 pm.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those solely those of the artist.

Alyssa DiVirgilio

What draws you, as a performer, to comedy (specifically, improv)? What is different about improv from other types of performance?

Improv is a special avenue of performance. Because I spent the first 20 some years of my life putting so much pressure on myself to be amazing based on someone else’s standards, improv came as such a relief. It’s different than other types of performance – obviously, because there’s no preparation of the material – but also because it encourages me to strike an inner balance between freedom and focus. I really like trying to meet that challenge every show.

I’ve also always gravitated towards comedy as a genre. If I have the choice to watch something that makes me laugh or cry, I usually want to laugh. I can cry just thinking about something in my life or the state of the world, you know? There’s no shortage of sadness, but I’ll take a laugh wherever I can get it.

How does Blackout integrate social justice into its improv work?

Here’s how I see it: in a lot of ways, I don’t think we “integrate” social justice. I think Blackout is inherently an act of social justice. There are too few platforms that I’m aware of where black people of all different hues, sexual orientations, opinions, and experiences get together and just talk to each other – and people come to listen to that conversation. Speaking our truths and sharing our experiences reveals our humanity, and when we all acknowledge one another’s humanity, social change is really possible. Also, as cheesy as it sounds, I really think laughter brings people together, so making comedy that unites all people (or as many as we can) is a powerful act. Blackout creates social justice by elevating the black voice.

Blackout has a reputation for embracing all topics, for nothing being off limits. How do you set up that openness with your audience? What are the ingredients that you make sure are in place that allow you to engage with your audience in this way?

Let me tell you about the Swag Hat: audience members anonymously make suggestions for Blackout to discuss, and they all put those pieces of paper in this hat. It creates a sense of openness. It’s an overall safe way to get questions answered. I remember doing a show in Hastings: it felt like, for a lot of people there, it was the first time they’d been able to get some of their race-related questions answered. For example, one of the Swag Hat slips asked, “What the appropriate term for a biracial person?” and listed “mulatto” as possibility. I was not as offended by the question as I might have been had someone asked me that on the street. For me, Blackout is one of the only spaces where I’m willing to answer questions like that, especially in communities outside of the Twin Cities.  On the one hand, it’s irritating to be asked questions when we think the answers should be obvious by now, and we don’t want to bear the burden of teaching people certain things. But at the same time, if someone never asks something, or if everyone refuses to answer because we think they should already know, how will that person ever start coming out of ignorance?

Pre-Registration is required for the workshop. Pay-What-You-Can/Sliding Scale. Details HERE.

More about Blackout Improv here:

Join Blackout Improv every third Monday night, performing at Mixed Blood.