Name as you’d like it to appear: Loïc Chevalley
Gender as you’d like it to appear: Non-Binary
City you live in and/or improvise in most: Lausanne (Switzerland)
Personal website or another project that you’d like to link to: https://www.instagram.com/loic_chevalley/
Impro(v) Bio: I began improvisation when I was twelve at school and quickly it became my passion and my work. I’ve worked on a lot of different kinds of improv: short and long-form, scholar forms, more literary concepts, scripted improv, etc. I directed a company three years long and last year I created my first improv show called “Nuit Blanche”. I taught and teach a lot too, to real beginners as to experienced improvisers. For now, I’m working on two shows, one is about Koltès, a French theatre author and a duo with a friend improviser and I’m asking myself on the purpose that can have an improv show in terms of political or pedagogical purpose.
How does being trans*/NB influence your impro(v)?
Well, that is a reaaally good question. Haha. First of all, I think that, since I have been confronted to gender stereotypes my whole life – our dear cisnormative society willing to make me understand how I have to act as a « boy » – I see them really quickly on the stage. Meaning that whenever an improviser who identifies as a woman is playing the following role who does not take decisions or when an improviser who identifies as a man plays any hint of toxic masculinity without being aware it, I see it directly. So I feel like I tend to not plays the same stereotypes. The other aspect of that is that I try to balance the group energy on a stage when I feel that the people who identify as women are always cut when they speak off or on stage. That’s more of how my trans identity influences my work offstage or my metaimprov but I feel like it’s linked.
And the other part of how it influences me is that when I’m coming on stage I always feel that all the possibilities are opened to me. I feel like playing everything, because I don’t identify as a man or as a woman so I’m not in the mind that the audience is waiting for something from my gender.
Do you play trans*/NB characters often?
I’m hesitating between answering “always” or “never”. Always because in my mind a lot of characters I play are not gendered, as in “Their gender is not even defined in my head because I feel like we don’t really give a shit”. And never because I don’t often talk about that in the improv and that often my characters are gendered by my play partners.
And what is strange when I play is that I feel like, and it may be wrong, that the audience and my partners gender my characters based on my gender expression that tends to be more masculine than neutral. And I can understand where that comes from when we’re playing short-form shows where everything is going quick and that the majority of people are associating masculine gender expression with identifying as a man. But I don’t really know how to change that thing.
How do you feel about cisgender actors playing trans*/NB characters in impro(v)?
Again, I don’t know what to answer. I’m split between the need to see more representation of trans* people on the stages today and the fact that a cisgender actor has a good chance to picture it with a bunch of stereotypes I don’t wanna see anymore. I’m sick and pissed off by every joke about trans* folks in improve and I have the impression that a lot of these jokes are made when a cis person is playing a trans* character. (These jokes involved calling trans* character “Ladies and Gents” every time. Seriously. Stop doing that.)
So I would say that in improv we need well-informed cisgender actors, like real allies, playing trans* characters and assuming to not surf on the wave of oppressive transphobic jokes when the topic is brought on stage. We need people who play them with intelligence, subtility and who understand that being trans* is not the only part of our life. (That means a trans* character doesn’t have to talk about that every second of the improv).
(I think that in theatre or in cinema the problem is slightly different because of the problems that have trans* people to find roles and of being fed up with seeing cis people playing us as neurotic, full of body-problems people. And the modality of creation are different and I think that changes the answer to that question, too, but it’s not the question here tho! Haha)
Besides announcing it, how might you know/show a character is trans*/NB?
Without gendering them. By using others pronouns than the ones we’re waiting for (and without doing a joke about that). By using neutral pronouns, neutral jobname (more for the French language).
I’m dreaming of a show in which every character use “they” as a pronoun just to see how the imagination of the audience will work and represent the characters.
How do you feel about playing different genders generally, in terms of naming gender and of expressing it?
If that’s done with subtility, intelligence and interest: Really well in improv. I have 0 problems to imagine an improviser who identifies as a woman playing a male character. Because there is no problem with that. The problem for me is arriving when someone is playing someone who’s living an oppression without being aware it. We have to stop seeing improvisers who identifies as man playing the dumb secretary or the hot prostitute because it’s basically a person with privilege mocking a person with oppression and I don’t feel like it’s useful in any terms. But I think if an improviser who identifies as a man plays a character who is a woman and that character is interesting and not just “the masculine woman of the show” it may be interesting. (That question is making me think a lot and I’m not really sure of the answer but let’s say that’s my mind for now !)
Does your local impro(v) community know/understand your gender? If so, how has that been in terms of acceptance/understanding?
They know it. I think a couple of them understand it, even maybe a lot of them, I don’t really know. I don’t even know if I’m out to everyone in my improv community. What I’m sure is that there’s a real interest about the trans*questions field and that I see a lot of people trying to improve their inclusivity.
What are some things that teachers/directors/other performers can do to make sure trans*/NB improvisers feel safe and welcome?
For the teachers: Begin by a circle of pronouns and by expressing which part of your body you don’t like being touched, express the fact that the workshop is an oppressive-free space, don’t let transphobic jokes on the stage go like it was normal. Do not use sentences as “Boys, do that and girls do that.” Or “Make two groups, the boys and the girls.” Don’t tell new improvisers that “If you’re a man you have to play man characters”, try to push your students out of the gender stereotypes, by orientating your impulses or your situation if you work with that kind of tools. Use ungendered substantives (more for the French language).
For the directors: Hire trans* improvisers. Ask for their pronouns and use it. Do not think “I need two boys and two girls for that show but think: I need to represent the most places on the gender spectrum for this show.” Hear your trans* improvisers when they say something is oppressive. Don’t ask your improvisers’ characters to stay in gendered stereotypes.
For the other performers: Ask about pronouns if you have a trans* colleague, ask for it if you don’t to because you never know how a person’s identifying. Talk about what your colleague is comfortable or not on stage. Touching body parts for example but playing things too. Maybe that your colleague’s not really in the mood to make a pedagogic improv about trans identity today because it has been a rough activist day and it’s great to speak about those things. If they’re non-binary, do not systematically gender their character with the gender they were assigned at birth. Do not gender them, or do it differently.
For every one of these persons: Talk with us, ask questions, ask for our pronouns. And asking is not enough, use that pronoun, teach to other colleagues to make our life easier. And please listen to us when we say something is offensive. If we take the energy and time to discuss it with you (and it may be hard to tell a colleague you love that their behaviour is oppressive) it’s because we think it’s easier for you to change it than for us to support it.
Thinking about examples of trans*/NB characters across all media (Impro(v), TV, Movies, Plays etc), what are the best trans*/NB characters or stories you’ve seen depicted? The worst?
I think the best is the child in The OA played by Ian Alexander. The whole TV show is really interesting about inclusivity and this character is incredible because his trans identity is not a problem, it’s just a colour in a full-of-colour life and development.
The worst on improv is the trans* character who is played as exotic sexual fantasies. The one who obviously is a prostitute and where we go through the whole improv speaking about their genitals.
And if I have to think about movies, for me one of the worst one was the movie “Girl” by Lukhas Dont, that is obviously a movie made by a cis person with a cis actor. I’m a bit sick of seeing us depicted like if we were always suffering and like if everything was about our body. I’m not saying that trans life is easy and I don’t know what’s it’s like to be a FtM person (FtM : Female to Male = A person transitioning from female to male) but I spoke with concerned people about that movie and I feel like there’s a huge lack of representation of trans people going well or having other problems than “trans* ones”.
Spoiler alert: We have the same problem as you like forgetting our keys and we have joy too, like going to a pub with friends.
Who do you look up to/admire as a trans*/NB person in impro(v) or the world generally?
There’s an Instagram account called @aggressively_trans and the girl who’s holding it make an incredible work of thinking and of vulgarization. I’m really admirative of the quality and the amount of work. I, too love the work of Aimé Pestel (@aime.pestel), a trans* artist and of Léon Salin Chappuis (@salinleon), a swiss trans* activist. I love too reading the thoughts of Paul B. Preciado, a trans* author who is incredible!
What’s something special that you and/or trans*/NB performers have to offer?
New ways of thinking about representation, solutions to play characters who don’t have to fit their supposed genders, will of inclusivity on stage but in the workshops and audience too, chat about why is the representation of anything a political act. And I may offer you a drink to celebrate a great chat!
And damn, we’re badasses, we fight every day to have the right to live chill, so we should know how to play great superhero I think!
Is there anything else you’d like to say about being trans*/NB or impro(v) in general?
That’s not easy every day, yesterday I was pissed off by a lot of things I saw on a stage about clichés and representation and being misgendered by the audience but what’s great is that the work to do is surely hard but beautiful tho. But, I must be honest, we need the help of everyone, we need strong allies.