What’s the price of art?
by Gael Doorneweerd-Perry
‘The show must go on’. Probably one of the most toxic things that we keep repeating each other. Why do I think that?
It creates a culture of ‘sucking it up’.
Telling each other that the show must go on is a way to ask everyone to keep up the appearances whatever they are feeling. Even when something is wrong. Even when people are problematic around us.
It comes from a place of service to the audience—which is a good general attitude—but it shouldn’t apply when someone is in danger, either physically or emotionally. What I want to see more in our community is the true wish to create high-quality art not being opposed to creating safe environments in which people feel good. Both can exist.
It spreads the belief that we should excuse misbehaviors for the sake of art.
Believing that the show must go on leads us to close our eyes to situations that we shouldn’t accept. Because we are also an artist in the field and we want to take care of our own careers first. Because we are afraid to be cast out if we speak up, to be considered ‘not professional enough’. Because we think that probably we are the problem if we cannot handle it. Often that last bit is confirmed by the people around us, and it simply adds a layer of shame for speaking up when something is wrong.
It justifies problematic behaviors and supports their actors.
Festivals will continue to work with problematic people to not rock the boat because the show must go on. Organizations and theatres will ignore red flags, reports, and testimonials because it’s easier to not have to face our own responsibilities. We all want the easy way, it’s human. No one wants to have to tell another improviser ‘I will not work with you anymore’.
I think that, especially in improv where everyone is connected and the field is based on interpersonal relationships, we all have responsibilities. We have no obligation to continue to give work, advertise, or give a platform to problematic improvisers. We can stop working with them. We can stop working with organizations that work with them. We can, as event producers, stop offering them work. Because every time we do that, we tacitly support their actions. We communicate to their victims, to the people they hurt, to the people they made uncomfortable or unsafe that the show must go on despite their experience.
This is not the community I want to work and grow in. We have the power to make improv a safer and better place. Believe the stories around you. Believe the people that speak up. Believe that for every story you hear, there are ten more unspoken in the shadow of shame. No one is irreplaceable, and if you are in doubt, you can always pause and think about what values you want to show, defend and promote as an artist, a professional and a producer. Because you know what? The show must not go on!