Katherine Profeta // Nov. 12, 2019

The Promise of Common Creation in Improv Comedy and Contact Improv

Katherine Profeta, Nov. 12 2019 2- 3 pm. 220 York Street, Room 100.

My new research explores two forms of improvisational performer training and performance, and Improv Comedy and Contact Improvisation, which emerged in the USA in the second half of the 20th century.  Both live on today, partially assimilated into institutional training structures, but still sometimes serving as alternatives to more formal pathways of study and creative production.  Thinking across dance and theater can better illuminate each practice, for instance clarifying how they arose from a shared cultural moment, during which the ideals of improvisation and collective creation swept across many disciplines.  I assign much credit for that larger moment to Africanist approaches to musical improvisation, and particularly the popular awareness of 1940s bebop which grew in the 50s and 60s. I also find common roots in progressive theories of education, which date back to the 19th century but similarly expanded in popularity as the 20th century went on. Both Contact Improvisation and Improv Comedy boast an exciting rhetoric of inclusion, according to which the creative act is decentralized, and performances are generated as the common property of all bodies present. Yet these techniques must also reckon with a less pleasant reality that the rhetoric of inclusion cannot obscure: open improvisation within a collective does not always counter patterns of socially ingrained bias, and in fact can amplify them instead.

Katherine Profeta is a NYC dramaturg who has worked with choreographer/visual artist Ralph Lemon since 1997. Other collaborators over the years, both recent and long-past, include Alexandra Beller, Nora Chipaumire, Karin Coonrod, Annie Dorsen, Julie Taymor, David Thomson, Ni’Ja Whitson, and Theater for a New Audience. She is also a founding member and frequent choreographer with the New York City theater company Elevator Repair Service, lending her hand to the majority of its productions since 1991. Profeta holds an MFA and DFA in dramaturgy from the Yale School of Drama, where she is currently a Professor in the Practice of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. Previously she taught in the theater departments of Barnard and Queens College, CUNY.  Her first book, Dramaturgy in Motion, came out in 2015 from University of Wisconsin Press. Other writing has been seen in Performing Arts Journal, Theater magazine, Movement Research Performance Journal, TCG’s Production Notebooks, and MoMA’s Modern Dance series. She was proud to be a dramaturg last year with the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Initiative.

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