Disasters, revolution, and improv

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Disasters, revolution, and improv

Postby valetoile » November 13th, 2005, 10:42 pm

While reading Rebecca Solnit's article "The Uses of Disaster" in the October Harper's, I was struck by parts of her argument's resonance with my view of improv. Briefly, she discusses the ways disasters can often lead to feeling of ebullience for those affected- such as when a city experiences a power outage and neighbors find themselves reconnecting in the streets. I've always had kind of a yen for disaster, and I thought I was weird, but I realize now that it's a natural human response. But that's beside my point about improv. I'll quote the part of her essay that really struck me:

(This first one is actually mostly something Solnits quotes from a study on Disasters and Mental Health by Charles Fritz)

(All emphasis is my own)

"In his 1961 study...Fritz asks an interesting question:'Why do large-scale disasters produce such mentally healthy conditions?' One of the answers is that a disaster shakes us loose of ordinary time.'In everyday life many human problems stem from people's preoccupation with the past and the future, rather than the present. Disasters provide a temporary liberation from the worries, inhibitions, and anxieties associated with the past and the future because they force people to concentrate their full attention on immediate moment-to-moment, day-to-day needs.' This shift in awareness, he added, 'speeds the process of decision-making' and 'facilitates the acceptance of change.'"

The point is not so much that improv is like a large-scale disaster, but that it produces or encourages similar effects which are in turn traits of excellent mental health.

Solnits then goes on to compare disasters to Carnival traditions. "There is spectacle, noise, chaos. You dress up or don a mask so that you are no longer yourself, confined to your everyday role. You go out in the street, you dance, you talk to strangers. Covert new erotic unions are a staple of old stories about masked carnival, but the public union of each to each is its point. Everyone is welcome to join in one way or another; everyone becomes a participant rather than just a member of the audience. ...Carnival's massage that anything can happen is not so different from revolutions exhortation that everything is possible. And the outbreak of revolution or insurrection begets a similar moment when the very air you breathe seems to pour out of a luminous future, when people all around you are brothers and sisters, when you feel an extraordinary strength. Then the revolutionary moment of utter openness to the future turns into one future or another. Things get better or they get worse, but you are no longer transfigured, the people around you are no longer quite so beloved, and private life calls with its small, insistent whisper."

Here is where I think improv can provide a valuable function in people's lives. Solnits asks of this feeling of possibility and joy generated by carnival, revolution, and disaster, "Why is the paradise generated so temporary? It's a labor and a rite, an occasion when society produces itself, something that should be renewed regularly but could not be practiced at all times. It's a peak moment, and you don't spend all your time balanced on the peaks, but what you see from the val punctuates routine, relieves the ongoing low-grade crises of isolation, indifference, and obliviousness; it mixes things up and connects them back together. The lack of real carnival in most parts of our society may be why its contents surge forth in unexpected places."

I think improv has the potential to creates those peaks of experience in smaller, more sustainable ways. Rather than having the one enormous annual release, we can provide tiny disruptions to the expected experience of time and order and give small thrills of limitless possibility and living in the moment, just a little bit, every day.

I believe that small things are valuable and make a difference. The revolution will be improvised.

I'd be interested to hear the ways everyone else here thinks of improv, and where you see its values being shared and reflected in other parts of your lives.
Last edited by valetoile on May 12th, 2013, 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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wow.

Postby erikamay » November 14th, 2005, 11:22 pm

...i have been chewing on this for the past few hours.

so - val - you are saying that the unexpected moments in improv parallel the endless possibilities of the future just after the moment of disaster? i have never thought of it that way, but can see the psychological simularities.

i dont think i have ever thought about the direct applications of improv to my life. for me, improv (and sketch) seems like the right medium for my artistic point of view and a good outlet for my nerdiness. i use it in work to think about how my contributions to groups affects outcome. i wish i had a specific example or anecdote to illustrate my meaning, but i will have to think more about it.

i love harpers. especially the weird stat column they often put in there about egregious pentagon spending, or crazy consumerism or education policies and outcomes.

slinking back off to my ac dec meeting.
Last edited by erikamay on May 12th, 2013, 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
"I suspect what we're doing is performance art, but I'm not going to tell the public that."
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Postby valetoile » November 14th, 2005, 11:28 pm

What makes me excited excited about improv, and the specific way I feel when I see or experience good improv, is similar to the feelings of times of disaster and revolution. There's a freshness. The endless possibilities, the chance to let go and be, the sharing and community as everyone creates a reality simultaneously- I think these are common factors. I think improv has a lot of the same qualities towards improving mental health and happiness that disasters do.
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