Recent events in the PHIT community and throughout the Philly comedy community have focused attention on how we all as comedians deal with issues of discrimination and harassment in the comedy world. The conversation isn’t just a local one – across the country women and men have been speaking out against injustices in their communities and specific institutions and individuals who are part of the problem.
I recognize that these are a deeply personal issues. Like many of you, I have family and friends who have suffered discrimination or harassment and have seen the toll this kind of aggression can take on someone. People’s opinions on how best to address discrimination and harassment can vary widely and wildly, but at the end of the day the common goal in all attempts to address these issues always seems to be greater tolerence, understanding and respect for every person. I’ve been encouraged this week as I followed or heard about conversations online and around town that strived for constructive, open dialogue regarding these types of concerns and had these end goals as their focus.
I believe it is important for me to contribute something to this conversation on behalf of PHIT – to speak about what we are doing to fostering greater diversity in comedy by creating safe and welcoming environments for all types of comedians. As the founder and owner of a comedy theater I understand I have the primary responsibility to ensure that we are creating a culture and environment free from any type of discrimination and harassment at PHIT. I want to be unquestionably clear: the health, safety, and security of our entire community is important above anything else. Creativite pursuits require trust and support, and our first job before all others is to create this type of environment so that the learning, creation, and performance we each come here to pursue can occur.
I am the first person to acknowledge that in the past we were not always as proactive as we should have been in addressing these types of concerns, and first person to admit that when it comes to issues as important as discrimination and harassment we should always strive to do better when handling such sensitive issues. In the past year PHIT implemented a Discrimination and Harassment Policy and trained all of our Company Members (those performers, instructors, and staff with consistent involvement at the theater as members of house teams, hosts of variety shows, teachers or key volunteers behind the scenes) in how it worked. The policy applies to anyone affiliated with our community – from audience members, to students, performers, teachers, and staff.
I fully understand that implementing and following through on a policy isn’t cause to declare victory. Real change requires a shift in culture through a commitment to supporting victims, who are predominantly women, and setting a standard of behavior that makes it clear this type of behavior is completely unacceptable and indefensible. Effecting these changes requires education, consistency, and time. There is often talk of blurred lines in comedy and as a fellow comedian I fully understand those challenges and in no way want to stifle the creative process. However I feel very strongly – and no one will be able to convince me otherwise – that creating a safe, respectful environment for everyone and offering creative, alternative comedy are not and should not be mutually exclusive.
If any member of our community has a concern related to discrimination or harassment they can always contact me directly or reach out to another member of our community who helps to run or supervise things at the theater if they are more comfortable making an initial report to someone else. This list of people would include:
Jessica Snow, Artistic Director
Mike Marbach, Education Director
Kristen Schier, Improv Producer
Joe Moore, Variety Producer
Jack O’Keeffe, Production Coordinator
Rachel Semigran, Kids & Teens Coordinator
David Donnella, Diversity Coordinator/Class Registrar
Maureen Scullion, HR Consultant
House Managers (Tom Hannigan, Rick Helpa, Teresa Nutter, Courtney Painter)
House Team/Dynamite Series Directors
It is my hope that we can all work together to provide a safe environment that treats every individual with dignity and respect on our stage, in our classrooms and anywhere the PHIT community gathers.
Philly Improv Theater