On the March Madness Feedback


The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect those of Highwire Improv. We hope you enjoy reading!

March 20, 2021

Hello Highwire Community,

Thank you for your candid feedback regarding our decision to include and endorse Matt Besser as a special guest judge for the final match of the March Madness of Improv festival.  Listening to the community is something you should always expect from us, and we are glad you felt like you could speak up.

We heard your feedback via multiple channels – email, on Facebook posts announcing the event, and we talked to several of you directly, and we reflected on the decision ourselves in a way that we should have earlier in this process.  This post will outline that feedback, what we considered in making a decision, and information about next steps in our incident retrospective process.

Based on the initial feedback, we found two issues to investigate:

  1. Were members of the Highwire community uncomfortable with the involvement of Matt in the capacity of judge?
  2. The endorsement of Matt in a role with authority and its misalignment with Highwire’s mission and values based on both Matt’s personal behavior (both as accounted in the feedback and elsewhere), and in the context of his role as a founder/manager of UCB.

    As mentioned above, we discussed both issues ourselves and with people who raised concerns and people who did not raise concerns.

    We also considered the risks associated with whatever actions we could take and their impact on the community, and March Madness participants not directly involved in the Highwire community (including Socially Distant Improv as an organization).  This included:
  1. The situation being that Matt was already booked, and had been announced to the entire set of March Madness of Improv participants and audience.
  2. The risk of the event being affected – potentially taking it away from those who had signed up, that this may bring undue questions/harm to those who raised the issues in the first place, which would be unacceptable.

Based on these factors, we have made the decision to remove Highwire Improv’s branding and endorsement from the finale, including any marketing for the finale and of Matt as a judge,  and we will not cross-stream the finale.  

This balanced the need to correct our misaligned endorsement of Matt, without removing our support, endorsement, and participation in the overall event which has been an enthusiastic celebration of improv that has brought together even more of the online improv world across Highwire Improv and Socially Distant Improv.

For transparency, this was a decision that we all agreed to, and we hold ourselves accountable for the mistake we made.  We were not pressured by anyone from SDI to include Matt in the event, and note that Kimberly Alu at SDI was thoughtful in gathering additional feedback and talking through solutions with us once the issue was raised, and understanding of our decision to act on the feedback received.

Further, we want to emphasize that this is not a blanket cancellation of Matt, the UCB4, or UCB as an institution.  We can criticize the behavior of individuals and organizations, and we can decide to not align ourselves with approaches that don’t suit our community without saying that they shouldn’t be doing improv ever again (we can also take that stronger stance when necessary).  More specifically, we want to be very clear that one’s involvement with UCB or any organization would not be taken as a blanket interpretation of that person.

What next?  There will be further reflection done on how this happened, and what we’ll do to prevent similar issues in the future, to come following a complete Incident Report and retrospective.  As a reminder, you can see details about our reporting process, incident management process, and non-retaliation policy (part of our Code of Conduct) on our Policies page of the Highwire Improv website.

Once again, genuine thanks for the feedback, it demonstrates trust and a community that cares, and we will continue to do our best to maintain and grow that community trust.

Barry, Brian, Geoff, and Kristen
Highwire Improv