‘We make up the rules as we go along…’ The Praxis of Improvisation

 Apr 14, 2017, 6:00 AM – 6:00 AM
 Gray Center Lab at Midway Studios

929 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637


A two-day workshop investigating the role improvisation plays in various creative endeavors:  theatre, cooking, design, music, writing and theory. Conceived and organized by Fabian Goppelsroeder, Feodor-Lynen Fellow at the Department of Germanic Languages. Presenters include the University of Chicago’s Mwata Bowden, Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, David Levin,  Jennifer Scappettone, and Noah Zeldin, as well as Dana Gooley (Brown University), Dieter Mersch (Zurich University of the Arts), Berlin-based designer Werner Aisslinger, and the ensemble dance-theater Lucky Plush (Chicago). 


April 14 

Coffee and Pastries

Theatre and Performance (Logan Center, rm. 701)

Improvisation certainly plays a role in the training of performers. But what importance does improvisation have in the generation of performance material in rehearsal and/or in performance? How do the ad-hoc reactions to partners, space, atmosphere, fictional circumstances, real conditions, etc. accumulate into a crafted and cohesive whole? We will explore these questions together with the dance-theater company Lucky Plush Productions. 

Chair: Leslie Buxbaum Danzig 

Catered Lunch

Despite widespread opinion to the contrary (in particular among theoreticians), theory is itself a praxis. Hence, theory is to a certain extent improvisatory. How then does improvisation influence theoretical work? In which way do we have to  acknowledge the improvisational character of logical arguments? To what extend can reflection on improvisation  influence our understanding of the praxis of theory?

Chair: Dieter Mersch 


Creative Writing
Writing involves a process far more complex and immediate than simply funneling thoughts into words as planned. How does improvisation with linguistic material influence the creation of language art (in prose as much as poetry)? To what extent do traces of improvisatory praxis linger in “finished" texts, and how do reading, performance, and interpretation continue to fuel this process indefinitely? 

Chair: Jennifer Scappettone 

Catered Dinner/Cooking Improvisation with Nate Large 


April 15

Coffee and Pastries

Music is certainly the paradigmatic improvisatory art. But how  exactly does improvisation contribute to a musical performance? Is it just a special way of playing, limited to what usually qualifies as "Jazz"? Or is it rather an aspect of all kinds of music, from  string quartets to Jazz combos? What is the relation between  improvisation and the automatic repetition of  standards?  

Chairs: Mwata Bowden, Dana Gooley, Noah Zeldin 

Catered Lunch


Industrial design and architecture do not seem to be very  improvisational. However, the creation of mass products and  living space is less (mathematically) rigorous and predetermined than it may appear. We will scrutinize the way in which technical infrastructure (digital media, scale paper etc.) and pragmatic  limitations force the designer to develop his or her product  through improvisatory praxis. 

Chairs: Werner Aisslinger and Tina Bunyaprasit of Studio Aisslinger


Final Conversation

Moderator: David Levin 

Catered Dinner


Free; registration required. Inquiries contact Mike Schuh at mikes1@uchicago.edu.

Presented by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago, Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, The Committee on Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago, Zurich University of the Arts, and the Goethe Institute Chicago.