Opinion

Impro and Science — a Teaser

Written by Ben Verhoeven June 25, 2020 2 comments

The text below is a teas­er sec­tion from a larg­er text titled “Impro­vi­sa­tion and the Sci­en­tif­ic Method” by Gael Doorne­weerd-Per­ry and myself that will appear lat­er this year in a book con­tain­ing essays from mem­bers of The SIN net­work.
You can find anoth­er teas­er of the chap­ter, on entropy, on Gael’s blog.

Both Gael and I have a sci­en­tif­ic background—Gael as a geol­o­gist and myself as a com­pu­ta­tion­al linguist—and we love improv.

Reproducibility in improvised theatre

Good research needs to be repro­ducible. If anoth­er researcher does the exact same exper­i­ment they should be able to find the same results, oth­er­wise the con­clu­sion of the first research should seri­ous­ly be ques­tioned. When con­nect­ing this aspect of sci­ence to impro­vi­sa­tion, it seems an anal­o­gy between sci­ence and impro­vi­sa­tion is in trouble.

Impro­vi­sa­tion is any­thing but repro­ducible, right? Every show or scene is only per­formed once, every char­ac­ter is dis­cov­ered in the moment. Yet there are counter exam­ples. Sketch writ­ers some­times use impro­vi­sa­tion as a method of gen­er­at­ing ideas for new sketch­es. Some per­form­ers find them­selves reg­u­lar­ly play­ing the same char­ac­ter again, per­haps because it was received well by an audi­ence the pre­vi­ous time. As impro­vis­ers, we think that this is not advis­able and that we should always aim to put our­selves in new sit­u­a­tions when on stage.

But here’s anoth­er idea. We believe that repro­ducibil­i­ty in impro­vi­sa­tion should not be applied to the con­tent of the scenes. Instead, we are inter­est­ed to inves­ti­gate if the suc­cess of a scene or a show is repro­ducible. What are the con­di­tions that were suc­cess­ful? What are the ele­ments of a show that are a ‘guar­an­teed win’? What is the com­bi­na­tion of tools that are giv­ing us the most chances of play­ing a good scene? In the case of cre­at­ing a show it might be the theme—everyone loves love sto­ries—, or a spe­cif­ic set up—difficult to mess up if the rule of the show is only two-per­son scenes—, etc. On stage while impro­vis­ing, it can be the ‘improv rules’ we establish.

2 thoughts on “Impro and Science — a Teaser

  • […] The text below is a teas­er sec­tion from the chap­ter “Impro­vi­sa­tion and the Sci­en­tif­ic Method” by Ben Ver­ho­even and myself. The book where it belongs will be pub­lished lat­er this year, and will inte­grate oth­er essais, includ­ing Biol­o­gy of Improv in its full ver­sion. You can find anoth­er teas­er of the chap­ter, on repro­ducibil­i­ty, on Ben’s blog. […]

  • […] The text below is a teas­er sec­tion from the chap­ter “Impro­vi­sa­tion and the Sci­en­tif­ic Method” by Ben Ver­ho­even and myself. The book where it belongs will be pub­lished lat­er this year, and will inte­grate oth­er essays, includ­ing Biol­o­gy of Improv in its full ver­sion. You can find anoth­er teas­er of the chap­ter, on repro­ducibil­i­ty, on Ben’s blog. […]

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