Improvisation and score making is an important tool and approach to creating and performing.  Below are some ideas to explore from a range of disciplines.  

A point of departure: suggestions for any improvisor.

[from Mike Vargas - Notice & Contribute]

• Be aware.
• Be available.
• Be responsive.
• Be clear.


[from Mary Overlie, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau]

Original "Viewpoints" or elements of composition:

  • Space,
  • Shape,
  • Time,
  • Emotion,
  • Movement
  • Story

Viewpoints added by Anne Bogart:

  • Spatial Relationship
  • Kinesthetic Response
  • Repetition, Gesture
  • Architecture
  • Tempo
  • Duration
  • Topography.

The elements of composition above are all very useful when building parameters for improvisation.  The system outlined in The Viewpoint Book is great - but you can use them in multiple ways to bring focus to a specific element.  

The Magic Envelope:

[from Rob Kitsos]

Many artists in dance and theatre use scores in a variety of ways.  Some techniques are meant to cultivate a group connection or build compositional ideas.  Other approaches offer structures for performing improvisation.  One of the challenges in using scores is finding the right balance between enough structures that you feel free to move, but not too much that you feel restricted. 

Below is a small list of concepts and scores that can be printed on a small sheet of folded paper and placed in a large envelope.  A finite group of participants is selected to participate.  The group chooses two folded papers and applies the concepts to the improvisation.  The group should not discuss ideas- just take a few seconds to be in the space and go.  It is also useful to include a finite amount of time. (Ex: Trio, 2:00)

It's fun to make up your own- but here are a few ideas:

Melody, Rhythm, Spatial Relationship, Movement Language, Contrast (time, space, dynamic), Story, Flow- continuous action/relationships, One focus, Sound Drives, Gesture, Obstacle, Object, Conversation, Kinesthetic Response, Image, One Arm, No arms, Attraction/ Repulsion, No Content, Collaboration, Chaos/Control, One Solo, Face up stage When Still, Speak When Still, Only Straight Lines, Only Curves, Secret, Family, Animal...

Rewriting Distance:

[from Guy Cools and Lin Snelling]

Rewriting Distance is a long durational arts practice and exchange between Belgian dramaturg Guy Cools and choreographer/dancer Lin Snellng. It is a performance/workshop creating an open space for allowing time to be felt and measured by our own looking.  Where the cadences of time improvise themselves within various art practices simultaneously.  Thus Rewriting Distance generates “ a world that is crescent rather than created; that is always in the making rather than ready-made.” (Creativity and Cultural Improvisation, Hallam & Ingold 2007, pp. 2—3). 

The original form has three participants.  A performer, a witness seated in a chair, and an audience person seated behind the witness chair.  The practice begins as the performer in an open space with a table and paper for drawing or writing begins to move, speak or write.  The witness can join the performer at any point they choose, and the performer can leave the space at any point they choose. The audience person moves into the witness chair, when the witness enters the performance space and the event unravels in this manner; as each participant moves through the various roles/time frames of performer, witness and audience.  The table with paper and pen creates  an island inside the open space where people are free to write/draw/read/sculpt. The form can take on many participants (one to 20) and in larger group settings there are more participants in the audience position who pass through into the performance through the threshold of the witness chair. 

Performance Piece #8 (Summer, 1965)

[from Alison Knowles - 'by Alison Knowles' see bibliography]

Divide a variety of objects into two groups. Each group is labeled “everything.” These groups may include several people. There is a third division of the stage empty of objects labeled “nothing.” Each of the objects is “something.” One performer combines and activates the objects as follows for any desired duration of time:

1. something with everything
2. something with nothing
3. something with something
4. everything with everything
5. everything with nothing
6. nothing with nothing

Performative presence for solo improvisation:

[from Isabelle Kirouac]

6 consecutive solo improvisations:
a) Focus inward – dancing for you
b) Focus inward – dancing for the audience
c) Focus outward - dancing for you
d) Focus outward – dancing for the audience
e) Alternating focus - dancing for you
f) Alternating focus – dancing for the audience

Duet Four - A long distance relationship

[from Andy Fields - Six Duets]

  • Find a location high up where you can look out over the city
  • From here find a person somewhere in the distance they should be far enough away that you cannot read the expressions on their face only the movements in their body
  • Try to measure the distance between you and them
  • Try to imagine how long it would take you to cross that distance: 1) if you were walking 2) if you were running 3) if you were a bullet fired from a sniper’s rifle
  • Try to imagine who this person is and what they are doing: where have they just been? where are they going? how well do they know the city? what is the loneliest they have ever been? what is their biggest fear? when was the last time they kissed someone completely spontaneously? do they miss being younger? have they noticed you standing here yet?

Real-Time Composition:

[from Rob Kitsos; see Joao Fiadeiro as another approach]

In this work- we set up a space for improvisation that is focused on composition.  Each participant is making choices based on what the space needs- while keeping an awareness of the outside picture.  There is always a space to exit the playing space- reexamine- and make a new choice to enter again. 

  • Make a choice
  • Commit to it and go
  • Leave when you are done
  • Repeat

As a large group, it’s great to assign rolls before beginning and give time to develop ideas. 

  • Choose a theme
  • Break into groups (players, Designers, Sound, Lighting)
  • Go away to build ideas
  • Come together and improvise

*add:  Call out- Pause, Reverse, Solo, Duet, Trio etc. and Clear the space


Roles:    Players, Light, Video, Sound, Visual Design

Players: inhabit the space/movement/text

  •        Off space:  make a choice and re-enter
  •        Question: what does the space need?
  •        Choices: Go with the simple/ not always first idea/ when out of an idea- leave.

Lighting: units and range of sources

  •        make choices about what sources to include
  •        move within and outside the working space
  •        bring focus – open to change

Video: pre-loaded images/ real time camera and projection

  •        make choices about images/ light/spatial arrangement
  •        move within and outside the working space
  •        bring focus – make change- open to change

Sound: acoustic- electronic- vocal

  •        make choices about instrumentation
  •        move within and outside the working space
  •        bring focus – make change- open to change

Visual Design: Set, props and spatial dimensions

  •        make choices about how the space will be arranged/ props/parameters
  •        move within and outside the working space
  •        bring focus – make change- open to change

Research on The Border:

[from Isabelle Kirouac]

Here is a series of workshops on exploring the idea of border.  They can be done in sequence or individually.

Border Contemplative Walk

A: Each person goes on an individual walk outside for 15 minutes, thinking about the concept of border and how this idea intersects with daily life and their immediate environment.

Where does public and private space begin and end? What is hidden behind walls, doors or under the sidewalk? What are the lines of division that exists around us?  What are the closest and farthest sounds we can hear? What happen when we get closer or father from a stranger walking down the street?  

B: Group conversation about the experiences.


Corners/ Border Poems

A: Writing exercise, complete the following sentences:

  • The border is…
  • The edge is…
  • The space between you and I is…

B: Border Poem.

Collective reading on the writing exercise and combining a selection of sentences from different individuals.

Authentic Movement

[from Tedi Tafel] 

A Practice for Performers and Creators of All Disciplines

Authentic Movement is a physical practice of listening for and embodying inner impulses. The basic structure is simple: a mover moves with eyes closed in the presence of a witness, attending to impulses that arise from within and bringing them to from through movement. Setting aside the desire to invent, to direct, to be creative, the mover learns instead to listen and allow. By attending to sensory/kinesthetic impulses, we see what our body is asking of us, to what needs to happen next. Giving up controlling, pre-deciding or censoring, we enter a realm that is unplanned and often surprising, one that invites direct experience of personal and creative truth. The body is seen less as an object to be trained or brought under control and more as a source and inspiration, to be attended to with its stories, intelligence and perceptions.

There are many ways in which the role of the ‘mover’ in AM practice supports and even mirrors the work of the performer/creator. At its most basic level, it teaches one to develop receptivity to one’s authentic impulses. When we discover a true sense of being non-selective, of having no agenda, in terms of what arises, more is allowed and available and the range and palette of expressive possibilities are expanded. Finding a felt sense of the moment, an uninterrupted connection of impulse into action, learning to self-witness, to stay aware of what is happening without prematurely shaping it, are all essential understandings for an artist. Authentic Movement teaches one how to tolerate not knowing, to trust and to remain present in the potential chaos of the creative process and not prematurely impose resolution before the excavation of ideas and imagery find their own completion.

As we then practice being witnessed by another, we learn how to consciously and willingly surrender to the experience of the moment and to be consciously and willingly seen in the midst of doing so. This is the work of the performer as he or she meets an audience. As we practice witnessing another, we again confront what gets in the way of truly seeing. We notice how patterns of perception and judgment remove us from more fully being present and we come to understand that by opening our awareness beyond our interpretation and analysis, we are able to include and to experience, much more. For an artist, this opportunity to become conscious and work with limits and habits holds great potential for expansion and growth. 

Element Chart:

[from Rob Kitsos]

Here are elements in improvisation in divisions of time, space, design, sound and choice.  This was something that helped identify what I wanted to focus on and what spanned each element (many are interchangeable).