Improvisation in the theatre: An intersection between history, practice, and chaos theory
Scott, Jeffrey S.
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As a performer who has worked in improvisation and an educator who has used improvisation in the classroom, I have come to believe that improvisation is a significant aspect of theatrical performance, and has been throughout the history of the theatre. Improvisation, perhaps, even led to the genesis of theatrical performance, as it has been noted that the Greek theatre evolved out of the improvisations of dithyrambic choruses. In spite of being such a continual presence in the theatre, no comprehensive account of the role of improvisation in theatre history exists. This is likely because improvisation does not leave behind a physical artifact like a script, and therefore may be more difficult to study. Furthermore, I believe there is a potential misunderstanding of improvisation, as modern thought tends to categorize it as the undertaking of comedy troupes or as an aspect of actor training, rather than a performance form in and of itself. This dissertation will highlight instances of improvisation both as performance and in performance over several periods of theatre history, from Ancient Greece to the present day, and will examine improvisation in terms of nonlinear dynamics, or Chaos Theory, to provide a theoretical framework for understanding it. In so doing, my aim is define and describe improvisation as a long-standing component in the history of theatrical performance, one that is deserving of historical and theoretical inquiry. This document will not be a history of improvisation, or a purely theoretical examination, but rather will seek to understand how improv has interfaced with theatrical performance in different periods of Western History.