Even in the 2017 political climate, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — and Dad’s Garage Theatre Company hopes to provide that light, by offering more Atlantans the opportunity to get involved in a little positivity.
The nonprofit comedy theater recently began offering diversity and inclusivity scholarships, which aim to bring in a wider variety of comedic hopefuls to its classes and stage.
“The diversity scholarship is a way for us to really broaden the range of voices and perspectives on stage. We realized that comedy — in particular, improv comedy — is not the most diverse field, and organizations like us have to step out and find ways to bring in people who might not normally get the chance to go onstage,” said Matthew Terrell, communications director for Dad’s Garage. “When we say ‘diversity and inclusivity scholarship’ … this is racial diversity, gender identity, people who are first-generation Americans, class diversity, people who come from a background where they couldn’t afford to take a class.”
Mark Kendall, a Dad’s Garage ensemble member, came up with the idea for the diversity scholarship while looking at other improv companies around the country, and decided Dad’s needed to make a “deliberate, intentional push” to become more diverse and inclusive.
“What I noticed was a bunch of other programs were looking to do the same thing, and they started with their classes — offering free classes to people that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have heard of them,” Kendall said.
Classes at Dad’s Garage run every eight weeks, so every few months the team reads applications and gives scholarships to applicants they have room for. The scholarship application includes five questions, one of which asks how the applicant will add to the theater’s series of diverse voices.
“An improv theater has its own specific style of comedy and in order to perform well with other people, you want to be able to get along with them well. In order to make those diverse voices feel welcome, I feel like going through the class system is a way to feel more like a community,” Kendall said. “Welcoming them into a level one [class] is a great way for them to learn like, how we perform and give them an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the place.”
New comedians don’t have to wait until they receive the scholarship to sign up for classes. They can sign up for the next round of classes, then if they’re chosen for the scholarship, the funds will go toward the improv lessons they are about to begin.
“When we say improv, we’re talking about comedy that is like ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ There’s no script. Sometimes it’s games and sometimes it’s long-form,” Terrell said. “With improv, all of our people on our stage come from our classes, so that’s how you learn how we play onstage.”
Through the four classes, Dad’s Garage comedians and scholarship recipients learn how to create a scene, basic characters, tell stories together as a comedic group and really focus on presenting those stories and characters onstage.
“Speaking as a gay person, I think that oftentimes in the gay community it can be kind of hard because there’s a lot of ‘no.’ There can be a lot of negativity, not just from other gay people, but the outside world. Being in an environment that’s about ‘yes’ and positivity is a really great experience,” Terrell said. “Improv is a skill that you can use anywhere in your life. It’s how to be positive, how to build up other people’s ideas. … It builds confidence. It’s a great way to learn failure acceptance, to be fearless, to go out there and make yourself vulnerable and make something happen, no matter what the outcome is going to be.”