20% Dress

Some thoughts from Maddy and Mariana from 20% Less on the apparently controversial issue of wearing a skirt on stage.

Recently, within a group for female improvisers that we both belong to, a surprisingly lengthy discussion took place on what women who improvise should wear on stage.

The indisputably correct answer is, of course, whatever she pleases and feels personally comfortable with, now let’s move on to dismantling the patriarchy or at least, the tiny part of it that dominates the improv stages of London (as a starting point). This answer is uncontroversial. But some of the reasons some women gave for never wearing skirts on stage were… troubling, and we didn’t want to censor our thoughts on it. So we’re making them public instead!

We almost always wear skirts or dresses on stage. Who we are on stage is an extension of who we are in our real lives and we both almost always wear skirts and dresses in real life too. If we’re not playing a written character, we don’t need to change our clothes to become that character. We should feel comfortable in ourselves, before trying to play someone else. Plus, on a purely practical note, many times we’re heading directly from work to a show and changing clothes in between is not an option and would just make us late to our own show!

“But no one will believe you are a man, if you play one on stage while wearing a skirt!” As improvisers, we create characters and worlds without the assistance of costume, make-up, props etc. If we do it well, we make you ‘believe’ we’re whoever we say we are and appear physically however we say we do. We’re as capable of playing a besuited man in a scene while simultaneously wearing a skirt and having (big) boobs in reality, as a man is capable of playing a ball-gowned woman while wearing trousers and having a (big) beard (and the latter people hardly ever contest!).

Are men just good at improv? We think not. Or rather, some people do good improv, some people do not. Gender doesn’t come into it, but commitment does. As long as you commit to your character and the reality you create on stage, you’ll be believable whatever it is you’re playing. No one expect us to grow pointy ears and whiskers to play a cat!

“But guys will get distracted and try to look up your skirts (or down your shirts)!” We will respond to your question with two questions of our own: Haven’t you come here to see our comedy? Most improv stages are, like, less than 50cm high, what intimate lady parts are you expecting to see?

Even if the stage is higher or if we’re climbing up on the furniture, as long as we’re wearing sensible pants, that’s all you’re going to see! Ok, maybe some rebellious pubes as well! We don’t really care what you see, or if you notice that some of us buy supermarket basic underwear because we rarely do laundry and have to buy new pants every month as a result. We’re not even talking from the position of people who are super confident in their bodies. We just don’t much care about your opinions on them. (You know strip clubs exist, right? For when you want to see the normally covered-up parts of a person you don’t know? And when properly licensed people are there showing their naked bodies by choice – you can see a lot more and with consent.)

We have boobs. Lovely, hilarious boobs that people look at anyway, irrespective of where we are and what we’re wearing. Yes, even if we wear turtlenecks. Boobs are great! Consent is great! Comedy can be great!

Above all, we shouldn’t be letting the creeps control our choices…just stand our ground and educate! In the end, it makes good raw material for comedy, which is all we care about!