Since I was a teenage audience member attending performances at Theatreworks, I have always been impressed by the welcoming ‘come one, come all’ vibe that Impro Melbourne exuded. For years, I wanted to give impro a go, but I hesitated. I didn’t doubt I would be welcomed. And my doubts were not those you might expect – about looking silly, or being self-conscious, or not being talented. Instead, I wondered whether my body would stand up to the rigours of such an energetic and physical activity.
I live 75 minutes from the venue, and have a physical disability which means even something as simple as travelling to or standing during class causes severe fatigue and pain that can wipe me out for days. Signing up for class also meant signing up to an enormous dose of pain and fatigue, and a few days of forced rest. Would the joy of impro be worth it?
Then came COVID-19. And online impro. And it rewrote the equation overnight. For me, now in my 30s, impro suddenly became eminently accessible.
There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic brought devastating consequences for many people. Including the arts community. A truth that remains of paramount importance. However, for many people with physical disabilities – particularly fatiguing disabilities – the pandemic has finally brought the world to us. To lives where ‘iso’ is often our normal, and we regularly struggle to take ourselves to the world. And for me, that’s been life-changing.
Attending online impro has brought reliable weekly joy to life in isolation. All the social connection, fun, laughter, energy and invigorating rush of impro, without the other painful half of the equation. Suddenly, doing impro seated is normal, rather than an obstacle. And skills using smaller movements, facial expressions and verbal choices, rather than big movements, are an asset. And I join with the click of a mouse, not an exhausting expedition. Even when I sustained a stress fracture in my foot at home in isolation, my ability to participate didn’t skip a beat.
Online impro has normalised a new form of accessible impro that is great not just for me, but for people with a variety of access needs – such as those who require mobility aids, sound amplification or support workers, who may have faced obstacles engaging previously. First and foremost, I support removing those obstacles as far as possible, to make face-to-face impro accessible for all who wish to take part. But I also hope this time will inspire the impro world to think creatively about building on the momentum, and making impro accessible for everyone. And I for one hope the option of online impro remains, long after lockdowns have lifted.