Not Your Dad’s Diversity: Atlanta Improv and the Changing Face of Comedy

 Photo courtesy of Dad's Garage

Photo courtesy of Dad's Garage

I first learned about Dad’s Garage living on the West Coast. I was doing a play called 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, directed by theatre veteran Amanda Sox. We had a limited budget, but managed to scrape together a lively, entertaining show with an all-female cast playing the all-male 44 presidential roles. The play was written by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg, and premiered as a Neo-Futurists of Chicago show in 2002 (back when there were only 43 presidents, hence its original name being 43 Plays for 43 Presidents). Soon after, it was produced at Dad’s Garage, where President Jimmy Carter came to see it.

My castmates and our director talked quite a bit about the fame of Dad’s Garage in Atlanta, and I told myself that if I ever moved back home to Georgia, I would be sure to take improv classes there. And this Winter 2017, I finally did, having been granted a diversity scholarship as a queer, female, Jewish performer. That is one of the missions of this non-profit theatre: to encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, women or female-identifying folx, and any other marginalized groups to participate in improv. It makes sense, too - to me, improv is therapeutic as well as a fun hobby or an asset in my career as a performer. Now, it’s also turning into a full-time job, with my role as a co-founder of Atlanta’s first all-queer comedy variety show, Queeriety, helmed by creator Nick DeGroote.

The role that the arts plays has grown significantly, especially in the era of Trump, and it’s refreshing to see companies like Dad’s confront political maelstroms with humor, grace, and initiatives that promote change in an industry that is primarily white male-dominated, adhering to a boy’s club mentality.

I had the privilege of interviewing Director of Education and Associate Artistic Director, Ed Morgan, on Dad’s Garage push for diversity in their classes, shows, and events and why it’s made Dad’s even funnier than ever:

----

Hi, Ed! Tell me a bit about the history of Dad's - who you are, who Dad's is, what was your initial mission starting out, and how has that changed in regards to diversity initiatives and efforts?

Hello! Well, I’ve only been the Associate Artistic/ Education Director of Dad’s for coming up on two years now, but I’ve been hanging around this place since I saw my first show in 2005, I think. The company itself got started in 1995 when a group of improvisers from FSU decided they wanted to start a theatre and picked Atlanta as the place to settle down. We’re a nonprofit organization and perform both improvised and scripted live theatre with a mission of “transforming people, communities, and perspectives through laughter.” Diversity is something that we’ve always agreed is important, but for a while, we just didn’t do anything particularly proactive about it. I think a lot of places are like that, and are starting to realize you can’t just sit around saying, “Man, I sure hope our company gets more diverse.” You have to make an effort.

 

Are there any inciting incidents that warranted Dad's Garage wanting to start diversity initiatives?

Not really. We have been working on this for a long time, but eventually we just decided it wasn’t enough, as a lack of diversity on stage continues to be too common in the improv world. So, we started talking a lot about what we could do to improve that, and we started making moves to try and get the experience of improv out to more communities and artists whose voices are under-represented in our particular art form.
 


How have you seen the theatre change since implementing programs, like the diversity scholarship? Have you had any pushback in the community?

The changes around here have been great! We’ve had a lot of success with the scholarship program in our classes. It’s led to a really noticeable change in the makeup of the group on our student show nights. We’ve also started doing monthly shows to give some stage time to improv groups that come from underrepresented groups, and they’re always packed. Plus, we’ve met some amazing improvisers who might not have ever been able to take a class. As far as the community, no, we haven’t noticed any pushback. I hope everyone sees how well it’s working for us and follows suit! I think some people are afraid that focusing on diversity leads to an overly-PC atmosphere that somehow lessens the comedy, or having to hire people who aren’t as good just to hit quotas or whatever, but it’s just not the case. Our scenes exploring sensitive subjects have gotten better as a result. You can do a lot on stage when it’s not a bunch of “Group A” ripping on “Group B” without them having a chance to show their perspective on the situation.

 

What are your plans to grow diversity efforts at Dad's for the future?

You know, that’s a good question. We’re going to keep focusing on adding more voices to our performing company for sure, but it’s not just about getting people on our stage. We want the improv community as a whole to benefit from this, and to me that means looking at ways to get more people from more different backgrounds learning improv skills. And that’s just my department; every part of Dad’s right now is making diversity a priority, and it’s only gonna get better.

 

Plug time! Any upcoming shows you'd recommend to our readers?

Oh boy, we have so many. We run shows every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30pm - it’s always changing up, so just check out dadsgarage.com to see what’s on on any given night.  

 

To sign up for improv classes, visit this link, and to apply for the Dad’s Garage Diversity Scholarship, get thee to this one. Yes, and!
 

---

Anna Jones is a writer and producer currently based in Atlanta. She is the proud owner of digital copywriting agency Girl.Copy and independent film production company Tiny Park Productions. She loves a lot of stuff, but mainly: her husband, kid, and cat, writing and filmmaking, coffee and Diet Coke, millennial pink, sushi, gay stuff, and horror films.