Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Improvisation has often been viewed and valued in terms of its service and resemblance to scripted traditions of theatre. Such a stance seriously undermines the significance and impact of this global performance modality, and has resulted in improvisatory modes being largely ignored or downplayed in modern historical accounts of theatre. This dissertation examines improvisation on its own terms, seeking to understand its unique features, functions and potentials, while freeing it from the heavy shadow of its scripted counterpart. To this end, the theories of literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, provide important methodological guideposts and allow the silhouette of the improvisational impetus to take form. Through the application of Bakhtin's concepts of the chronotope, prosaics, polyphony and the carnivalesque, and his overarching schema of the genre as a way of seeing and experiencing the world, the communicative event of improvisation is revealed to be strikingly similar to Bakhtin's preferred model, the modern novel. In this manner, the "novelty" of embodied spontaneity is uncovered. This heightened understanding of the improvisational impetus is considerably enriched through a detailed consideration of a diverse field of spontaneous movements that span numerous regions, periods and socio-political contexts. In addition to more widely recognized theatrical movements, such as the Roman mime, Italian Commedia dell'Arte, Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, Viola Spolin's Theatre Games and Keith Johnstone's Theatresports, the inclusion of lesser known (and marginal) practices, such as Japanese renga, Nigerian Apidan and Jacob Levy Moreno's psychodrama, further elucidates and complicates improvisation's generic qualities.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh