Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.

 

John Gebretatose

Director of Diversity and Inclusion for HUGE Improv Theater, Founding Member of BLACKOUT Improv, Co-Founder of Black and Funny Improv Festival

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position and what you do.

Let’s start with what I do: I am currently the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for HUGE Improv Theater, I am one of the founding members of BLACKOUT Improv, and the co-founder of the Black and Funny Improv Festival, which has now franchised internationally.

How did I get there? That’s a great question. I saw a need and created a proposal for what changes I wanted to see in the Twin Cities comedy community. In other words, damn it was white. It still is, but it’s changing. I brought this proposal to the Board of Directors at HUGE Improv Theater, and they said yes. Not just to what I proposed but to all the changes that needed to happen and to giving me all the resources I needed to start that change. This is something I would have done with or without them, but thank god they did say yes because partnering with HUGE has made this initiative so much more powerful and they have the influence to change so many all at once. Because of this I have gotten the opportunity to open up doors for so many people who would never have had the opportunity to pursue their passion of doing comedy, or potentially even discover it was their passion. 

That leaves the hard question of who am I? I am a person who believes in sticking to my voice and doing comedy in a way that is true to me, and my hope is that it inspires other people to know that they are enough and they are worthy just as they are. Oh, and one of my hobbies is archery.

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be independent, I wanted to be self-reliant, I wanted to be happy. When I was a kid, they called it being a class clown. Seems like I made that work out.

 

What’s the best part of your job(s)?

I recently was invited to do an improv workshop with a medical support group for people of color with Multiple Sclerosis. I found out after the workshop that these meetings can be draining and sad as the group focuses on the facts of their illness, and this was the first time the group had laughed and played from beginning to end. I love that connection that improv creates, and how it brings out the best parts of people while bringing them together.

 

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre/the arts?

I just wanted to do comedy. It just so happens that when I got up on that stage as a black comedian, it happens to be political. That’s when I realized that I am in a position to do something with my comedy, something that can make a difference.

 

What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre/the arts?

I was surprised to find the majority of the comedians I have met are more reserved off stage. I thought they would be super outgoing and fun, always doing bits. Now I totally understand, some days I feel like a monster who doesn’t want jokes, and that’s all right with me.

 

Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?

My mom. She had this set of four glasses that were her absolute favorite.  Now, my mom is schizophrenic so for her to connect with things in the world was special and important. Growing up I had broken three out of the four. As I broke the last one, she looked down at it and said, “What’s done is done,” and let it go. The message I received from her in that moment was taking responsibility for your actions, and never forgetting the past but at the same time having the opportunity to move forward into the future with wisdom and growth.

 

What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the Twin Cities in the last year?

I can think of so many that I loved. Family Dinner, a show in its 6th year at HUGE that did open auditions last year and diversified their cast for the first time. Show X, every Monday night at HUGE always blows me away. My group BLACKOUT makes me proud every show. Seeing the Black and Funny Improv Festival explode with laughter from Red Pill Players, Pimprov, and Soul Decision.

One that sticks out is Black and Funny Youth Squad from Washburn High School, they are so new to improv but so connected to one another in a way that is playful and smart. They tackled hard issues in such a trusting and powerful way; they have to be the most uplifting thing I saw last year.

This next year I look forward to seeing more shows with people of color in them.

 

You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with (living or dead)?

Nah, no comment.

 

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in arts administration/your position?

Relax. It’s not if you fuck up, but when you fuck up.

 

Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?

I don’t. I wanted to think of something funny, but I don’t have anything. Truth is I wouldn’t be able to keep snacks because I’d eat all the snacks.