By Danielle Cole
When the Me Too movement burst into the international spotlight in 2017, I wasn’t ready to talk about my own experiences with sexual harassment and assault. In fact, I still haven’t talked about most of my experiences with sexual harassment and assault. Today, though, I want to open up about one aspect about my experiences – those that have come up before or during fandom improv performances.
Sexual harassment and assault in fandom improv
While the geek community has, in some ways, become a more welcoming space for women over the past number of years, there is still a long way to go.
Even in fandom improv, sexual harassment and assault can be an issue. As a troupe, The Dandies often attend conventions and events, which means constantly entering new spaces and interacting with new people. Although 99.9% of our interactions in these environments are wonderful, there is the occasional issue.
One instance that stands out in my mind was a late-night show we were invited to do. When we arrived at the space, everyone seemed friendly and welcoming. We were shown our green room and made ourselves comfortable. Once we were settled, many of us moved out of the green room space and into other parts of the venue. At one point, I returned to the green room to grab something out of my bag. I was in the middle of doing that, when one of liaisons from the space came in. He began making a series of sexual comments and advances to me. I felt so unsafe that, when he moved to another part of the room, I scooted out the door.
Thankfully, I had guests at the event, so asked one of them to be my buddy for the rest of the night.
At the time, I was new to the troupe, so I wasn’t sure how to raise the topic of what had happened. When I finally did, however, I received absolute support. Not only did we establish that it was always safe to speak up about experiences like this with one another, but we discussed ways of handling problems in the moment. While the experience itself was scary, I’m grateful for the trust that we were able to build as a troupe.
The trust we’ve built as a fandom improv troupe has helped us when challenging situations do arise.
One of the most difficult situations happened at a Holodeck Follies’ performance. At one show, there were some audience members who were intoxicated and began shouting out comments during the show. While the first comments were innocuous, the call-outs soon devolved into sexual comments, many of which were about my body or sex acts I should perform on fellow troupe members.
The situation was extremely difficult as all of The Dandies prioritize having a space that is safe and welcoming for us, our guests, and audience members of all ages – and these comments violated that safety.
I also felt powerless in the situation because I didn’t want to be physically close to the audience members, which I would need to be to address the comments with them. Thankfully, Velvet Wells felt safe enough to step in. The next time he was off-stage, he slipped into the audience and spoke to the group that had been shouting the comments. After that, they stopped, allowing us and the rest of the audience to enjoy the rest of the show.
Having each others’ backs – and yours too
In improv, performers often say “I got your back” before going onstage. This is supposed to be a reminder that we are all a team and will take care of each other while performing. One of my favourite aspects about The Dandies is the way we have each others’ back – onstage and off.
We do everything we can to stop issues from arising at our fandom improv shows or any of our other event. Then, if issues do arise, we work together to keep each other safe and supported.
We also have our audience members’ backs. That includes:
Making sure that our family-friendly shows are appropriate and welcoming for children and adults alike
Working to make sure our shows – and the fandoms we chose – are inclusive and welcoming to all folks
Keeping the spaces we perform in safe for our audience members
If you ever come to one of our fandom improv shows and encounter a situation where you feel unsafe, we are always here to listen and assist in any way we can.