LAUREL: Welcome, Aaron! I’ve known you for a few years through the San Diego Improv Festival and I really admire you as a performer. Tell us a little bit about yourself!
AARON: My name is Aaron Mosby. I’m the Director of Consulting & Delivery at an IT services company called Avtex. The oldest of five, and I grew up in Atlanta, GA and Minneapolis, MN. I live with my girlfriend in New York, NY.
I spent 10 years volunteering, teaching, and performing at Washington Improv Theater (WIT) in Washington, DC. During that time, I served as a member of the board for 5 years, 2 of which were spent as the board chair.
LAUREL: Tell us about how you got started at Washington Improv Theater.
AARON: I saw my first show at WIT in 2006 and got seriously involved in the theater in summer 2009. I had just been laid off from a job which gave me the opportunity to take 2 week-long intensives. Shortly after, I started volunteering at the box office and working as a TA. After finishing the classes program in 2010, I began a program of becoming a teacher. In 2012, I began teaching and joined Nox, which would go on to become a house ensemble at WIT. In 2014, I joined the board of directors. After two terms, I stepped down, in part, because I moved to New York.
LAUREL: How does WIT’s structure foster diversity?
AARON: The core structural element that facilitates diversity at WIT is its non-profit status. WIT is a mission-driven organization that exists: “To unleash the creative power of improv in DC. To engage audiences with performances that exhilarate and inspire. To ignite the spirit of play in Washington with a revolutionary training program. To create a home for improv, connected to the life of the city.”
To meet this mission, WIT has to rely on diverse voices that make up Washington, DC. This drives WIT to have a city-wide strategy to get improv into as many hands as possible. This is woven into the classes program, which hosts classes in diverse locations around the city. It’s woven into the artistic programming that is proactively interested in making sure that audience members see themselves represented on stage. It’s woven into the board of directors that is as diverse as the city itself.
LAUREL: How has WIT’s structure and mission statement helped them navigate issues in the past?
AARON: WIT is accountable to the community it has helped to create throughout the city. In 2017, the improv community in the DC metro area called for accountability on diversity in the improv community. WIT released a detailed report of the people who worked for the organization, including the board of directors, full-time staff and teachers, and the people who made up performance ensembles, including players and directors. In addition, they created a public tracker of these data points that can be assessed and reviewed by the community at any time. WIT also opened up the theater space for a town hall discussion that gave everyone in the community a chance to share ideas on ways WIT could create more inclusive opportunities.
LAUREL: Do you think large, for-profit theaters can uplift diverse voices as well as smaller nonprofits can?
AARON: I believe there is a way for for-profit theaters to uplift diversity, but it has to be baked into every aspect of how the theater is run. Building a diverse space is an on-going effort that must be continually attended to to drive desired outcomes. This will also likely include additional investment in unique marketing campaigns that communicate to diverse audiences who may not otherwise be engaged in traditional marketing channels.
LAUREL: What advice would you give to someone opening up a new theater?
AARON: Be intentional about the people you partner with to bring your theater into being. Partner with people who are truly passionate about what improv can do to improve a person’s life and the community.
Have a mission worthy of the art from. Improv is built on spontaneous and fervent agreement. Improv encourages us to trust more and fear less. These foundations uproot engrained human behaviors and open up a space for connecting to other people that is rarely experienced. Improv should be spread as far and as wide as we can spread it.
Finally, remember that great improv is about relationships, not transactions. For improv to thrive, you have to build a community.