Happy International Women’s Day 2024!

We love celebrating the fantastic, funny and thoughtful women in our improv community. This year, we’re especially excited to celebrate International Women’s Day with our special show tonight, WOMAN. The show was devised, directed and produced by our incredible former Theatre School students, Tina Malhotra and Camilla Owen, and will showcase a range of exceptional performers from our community.

Tina and Mills, along with our Artistic and Executive Director, Kierann Shah and members of the cast of WOMAN have shared some of their thoughts on the process of making the show, its importance and what audiences should expect. Read on for some truly inspiring insights!

Tina Malhotra

I started doing regular classes and showcases at the Bristol Improv Theatre about 6 years ago. I also used to go to the improv women’s drop in at the BIT pre-covid and used to really notice the different quality in the room when improvising with only women, softer, less competitive, more generous.

The idea for the show came after a walk with Mills, we were having a catch up and talking about everything improv! Mills is great at ‘Yes And’ ing and was instrumental in incubating my fledging ideas. The improv that I love to watch is anything that touches me emotionally and makes me feel connected to the characters or the players. In this show, WOMAN, I was interested in how are we the same but also how are we different or separate from each other and how do we welcome all of those parts in ourselves and also in the rest of the cast? The idea of the show is that as well as bringing a cast of diverse women together we bring together as many different creative improv forms as possible, and see what happens when all of that stews in the pot together.

On a personal level I am mixed race (Asian/British) and experienced a fair amount of racism as a child back in the late 60’s and 70’s. Much of my life’s story has been about integrating the different parts of me and forging my own path, as neither Asian nor British but also as both. I work as a counsellor/psychotherapist, so my life is about listening to peoples experiences and the narratives that they have about their lives. For me this journey has been very much about what is it to be seen? And what is it to be heard? What happens when I truthfully stand up in front of an audience as myself? In me there was a deep desire and longing for both and an equal or greater amount of terror. So this show is important because it’s a window into the true lived experiences of women of all different ages and all different backgrounds.

Camilla Owen

This project was important to me initially because I wanted to support a wonderful and talented friend bring their vision to life. The rehearsals have shown that these types of projects are really, really needed for us to develop as individuals and communities. Having a supportive, safe space enables people to be themselves and to see that they will be accepted for who they are. Hopefully, the connections and friends that are made will spur on a new wave of creative projects and friendships! 

My favourite bit of the rehearsals has been listening to so many interesting, varied, multi generational women’s stories. Sometimes it’s been difficult to pull back from the deep and meaningful conversations and to remember that we’re here to do a show! It has also been super inspiring to see how passionate and skilled Tina & Kierann are in creating / holding a safe and supportive workshop space. 

I’m really looking forward to seeing our diverse and talented cast of women shine on stage and celebrating with them afterwards. Everyone’s stories are important. This is an opportunity to hear stories from brave and awesome women. 

Kierann Shah

The process of making WOMAN has been fascinating, it’s been brilliant to see Tina and Mills working together as first time directors/producers. Mills has even learnt how to operate tech for the show! I’m in awe of Tina’s approach, creating a space where women are accepted as their full selves, where we’re allowed to have big emotions and express them, knowing we have permission to manage and look after ourselves as we need to, and this doesn’t derail the process but strengthens it. Some really interesting themes about inclusion, representation and intersectionality have come up that I will be reflecting on long after the project.

My favourite part of rehearsals has been the generosity and curiousity with which the group have regarded each other from the start, and the inventiveness and creativity of these women. The juxtaposition of what we have in common as women with the differences we have that make us unique is endlessly fascinating to me. I can’t wait to see this work performed in front of an audience. There are moments that I know are going to feel truly electric in a room full of people and I’m excited for the ensemble and the audience to get to experience that.

This project is so important because women in general curate how we present ourselves quite carefully, we want to avoid being dismissed as “emotional” or frivolous, we don’t want to open ourselves up to judgement or harm so we keep parts of ourselves very guarded. This work will show these women being heartfelt and honest about what they feel and experience, and it will also show that women are silly and funny and fallible too. As Tina has said, it’s about being seen, being allowed to be a fully rounded, and flawed, human. There is something magical about seeing women just being themselves, and just having fun and exploring without having to be perfect or prove anything. That’s incredibly liberating to be a part of, and it’s also liberating to watch.

It’s also important to me because in improvisational theatre and comedy in general in the UK women are under-represented. I think representation of women is generally better in Bristol than in some other UK improv communities, but there’s definitely still room for improvement. And having women from our community as the directors and producers as well as the performers is  an important part of that.

One of my absolute favourite things about improv is that it can provoke an audience to think: if those people on that stage can just get up and do that without a script, what could I do? What am I holding myself back from for fear of trying and failing – or trying and succeeding? It could be something small, it could be something life changing – that potential is always hanging in the air around improv and it’s absolutely what motivates me to facilitate work like this.

Jadean B

The ideas for the show came from us and our experiences as a women, in all shapes, shades and forms. The process has looked raw and real. We have seriously cried, hysterically laughed and shared comfortable silences. It’s been beautiful as when we came together for rehearsals it felt that we’ve never been away.

It is vitally important to not only have chance for women to share on stage but have spaces held for women to come together and express how they feel and help make them feel less alone in their experience as a women. I am looking forward to sharing the stage with some wonderful women and celebrating national women’s day in style! 

Deb S

The beauty of this project is that we have some things in common and some bits which make us each incredibly unique. We are thriving in the creative moments. We stand up being one with ourselves and with the people around us, creating new definitions of what being a woman looks and sounds like. Many of us have been shut out of or hindered from professional goals and/or theatre because of gender so this space is very very special. 

Hearing stories. Sharing our truths and being accepted as ourselves and heard (probably more so than ever for some of us) has been my favourite part of rehearsals. It is a non judgemental space. There is so much freedom in the direction and so much kindness. Many of us have said that we do not want the experience to end. It’s a special space with incredibly talented, diverse, professional, multi-faceted, highly inspiring women (as they self define).

Come and feel what it is like when women are heard, seen, and take the spaces which suit them as individuals and as a collective. Perhaps you may even feel as if what we say resonates with the voices within your hearts or the hearts of the talented and strong women around you. What better way to celebrate with women on International Women’s Day than in the creative soul of Bristol.

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Amy Iles

1 Comment

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