On Thursday, March 13th, two nationally touring actorsÂ visited Roanoke College and set up in the ballroom for a night of improvisation and fun that nonetheless had a very important message behind it. From the beginning, it was clear that this event was going to call for active audience participation. When students walked through the doors, they swiped their maroon cards and were handed small stop signs held up with popsicle sticks. While no information was given, it was clear that they would be used during the interactive night.
A little after eight, the actor and actress jumped on stage with the type of energy that got the whole audience excited for the evening. They welcomed the crowd loudly to Sex Signals and immediately began with gender-based banter. They announced to the audience that we would be talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of dating.
Without much introduction, our two performers started improving. The guy was our protagonist. He was at a party and made it very clear what kind of guy he was portraying by informing us that he was on a quest. From the first time he asked the audience to provide him with a pick up line, to the end of the show, the audience was laughing. A science major in the front row gladly started interacting when she shouted out, “If you were an enzyme, I would be DNA helicase so I could unzip your genes!” Every few lines, the actors were asking the audience for advice and adlibbing based on the answers. Soon, there were no awkward pauses waiting for a raised hand because everyone wanted to see their ideas played out on stage.
The second improvisation began after the actor asked for stereotypes. Guys were associated with football, aggression, football, beer, and football. Women were linked with ladylike behavior, crossed legs, shyness and giggling. They put a dozen of these stereotypes into play, and they continued adjusting their scene as the audience called out more. We were also instructed to use our stop signs whenever we thought the situation was going too far. People started cautiously and then adamantly waving their stop signs when the scene was going wrong and the woman was becoming a victim. The actors ignored us though, so we put our signs down. It was eye opening when after the scene, the actors said that too often people will be concerned initially, but put their concerns away without actually making any difference at all.
While the night was light and funny, it did carry very serious overtones as it touched on important issues like rape and sexual harassment. The actors brought these subjects to the audience’s attention through exaggerated and often humorous improvisations without undermining the importance of what was really at stake.
The crowd laughed most of the night. One of the last improvisations featured BeyoncÃ© in Hawaii trapped in a meat locker when our male actor came and saved her and showed that he was romantic and trustworthy. We came away from the night with a better understanding of stereotyping, gender roles, and sexual harassment, as well as smiles. And one lucky member of the audience received a blocktapus T-Shirt for her avid participation in the blocktapus pledge to put a stop to any witnessed harassment. Although not everyone received a T-shirt, we can always work a little harder to thwart preventable scenes that take place around us.