ReClaim September: Who is Blackout Improv?

Joy Dolo, a founding member of Blackout Improv, shared some thoughts with CFPA via email about the troupe’s inception, growth, 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.

How did Blackout come to be?

Blackout was created three years ago, from five black folks who were tired of being the only ones in a sea of white faces in the comedy scene. We needed representation for our points of view in comedy in the Twin Cities, and to create a safe place for people of color to come and speak their truth, and have everyone on stage understand them. We didn’t even all know each other. We started with the idea that we would do a show or two, say our piece with some laughs, and move on. But we found people were extremely receptive to our comedy and our different points of view and the rest is history.

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

Comedy is the base that allows people to have conversations around serious topics. Improv is a tool that allows you the permission NOT to hold yourself back from your first instinct. It teaches you how to trust your gut, while also supporting your fellow improvisers in scenes. In theater/film/dance you have a script, you have a structure, you even sometimes have your emotions written out for you. With improv, you create the world you want to live in. And you have your ensemble supporting you in whatever situation you choose.

What happens in your improv workshops?

In our workshops, we teach the techniques of basic improvisation, ensemble building, and character development in an improv context. We also have discussions that range from how we see each other in the community, to social justice, to supporting each other, onstage and off.

How does Blackout integrate social justice into its improv work?

We start by defining what social justice means, because it is a broad term. Blackout creates a safe space through games that allow people the opportunity to share what they are really feeling, what is really on their hearts and minds. Once that is established, it creates a trust in the ensemble that then allows us to discuss social justice and everything that encompasses.

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?

Honesty. Honesty. Honesty. I think people are ready for truth, but no one will feed it to them. Blackout has a spoon and is forcing your mouth open. Before we go onstage every show, I always say that I love audiences’ support, but the show is not for them. It’s about them witnessing us being ourselves and talking/playing with each other. We address really tough topics: police brutality, the n-word, white privilege, sex and relationships – and we all each have different relationships to these things. We need to be able to go out there and trust that we can be vulnerable with our ensemble and the audience can feel that. Parts of our show sometimes aren’t funny – and that’s okay. If the audience sees that Blackout is composed of three-dimensional people with different thoughts, life experiences, and points of view, we did our job. A lot of honesty makes for excellent comedy.

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.