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  • Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance
  • Gary J. Mazzu
Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance. Edited by Adam Blatner, Daniel J. Wiener. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2007; pp. xxv + 383. $25.95 paper.

In his foreword to Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance, David Shepard, one of the pioneers of improvisational theatre and cofounder with Paul Sills (Viola Spolin’s son) of the Compass Theatre in Chicago, states emphatically: “Our culture nowadays cries out for a theatre that counters tendencies towards regulation and repetitious tasks. Improvisation cuts through the barrier of conventional verbal thought and unleashes the imagination” (xviii). Further, Adam Blatner, editor with Daniel J. Wiener of this very thorough collection of essays, declares in his introduction that “[m]ost of the activities in this book are aimed at ordinary people—applied theatre is more inclusive. If you’re a theatre artist, you can allocate some or most of your professional efforts to the enjoyment of turning people on to the richness of drama and empowering their imagination and spontaneity” (xx). This wide-ranging text successfully lays out the broad parameters of interactive theatre and drama and demonstrates its value for both pragmatic and aesthetic applications.

This anthology includes 33 essays devoted to the various dramatic methodologies that can be described as interactive and improvisational forms of “applied theatre.” In chapter 33—the final essay of the book—Blatner explores how improvisation and interaction are used in other fields beyond theatre. The book is divided into five concise segments, with an editor’s overview at the beginning of each section.

In section 1, “Community Building,” Blatner relies on his 35 years of clinical experience and defines “the importance of vibrant social networks in the maintenance of mental health” (1) as the primary focus of this section. The chapters devoted to the “Playback Theatre” of Jonathan and Hannah Fox and “Healing the Wounds of History” by Ronald Miller and Armand Volkas are especially noteworthy for their unique and thought-provoking use of improvisation and interaction for exploring ideas and issues relevant to both participants and audience. Also, “Reflections: A Teen Issues Improv Troupe” by Staci Block is a wonderful example of a program that, for over 16 years, has been effectively empowering teams of youth to educate fellow students about important topics relevant to their age group through the use of improvisational theatre.

Section 2, “Applications in Education,” is especially thorough and gives educators (both in-class teachers and itinerant creative-drama specialists) ample tools for both the classroom and fieldwork. “Theatre in Education” is an excellent essay by Allison Downey that relates the ongoing work of professional actor/teacher teams that tour to schools, juvenile detention centers, and/or community spaces to perform programs that incorporate “significant issues that might be pulled from history, literature, science, newspaper headlines, or imaginations” (99). For section 3, “Applications in Psychotherapy,” Blatner states in his overview that “[a] more holistic approach is needed especially for people who are suffering from a variety of types of addictions and the residues of acute or chronic trauma. Drama offers a range of techniques that include the ‘right brain’ as well as ‘left brain’ abilities, and helps to integrate and balance these functions” (152). The six chapters in this section succinctly address individual and group needs alike.

The topic for section 4, “Applications for Empowerment,” is overtly political in context and focus. Here, the reader will find a chapter on Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” written by John Sullivan, Mecca Burns, and Doug Paterson that emphasizes the way Boalean interactive and improvisational theatre can be empowering, effective, and affective for everyone involved. “Women’s Empowerment Through Drama” by Abigail Leeder and Jade Raybin and “Acting Out: An Interactive Youth Drama Group” by Kim Burden and Mario Cross are both very informative reads as well. In the final section (section 5), “Applications for Life Expansion and Entertainment,” there are a number of essays devoted to a variety of improv/interactive performance modes. Essays on everything from “theatresports” to mystery theatre, from clowning to theatre games, and from interactive video to the “art...


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