Authorship

Who is the author in improvisation practice?

There are at least two issues to discuss on this topic

1. Who is the author of an improvisation performance?
(the person/people who defined the context? the performer(s)? the audience? all three of them?)

The issue is a hairy one for us improvisation artists, because with all affinity to collective practices and equality, we tend to live from being credited and paid for ‘our work’ – so there is a PRACTICAL side to authorship that is related to making a living and how available money is divided amongst each other at any given moment.

But there is also a PHILOSOPHICAL and ETHICAL side to it: Most improvisation performers would agree that the audience has a great influence on the improvisation, even if the people stay in the role of viewer/listener. But if that is so, how far exactly reaches the extent of their authorship and how can we credit them properly for their role in making the piece?

When working together collaboratively, how do we credit each others role in the making and performing? In the moment of performance, this is probably easy to establish: everybody is equal. But how do we measure the amount of work that has been put into preparation of the context in which the improvisation unfolds, and how do we credit it properly, staked against the performance moment? Is authorship measured in hours that we put into it, or is it measured in a different quantity?

If we would be able to solve the PRACTICAL side of it in a different way, an interesting question could be: Do we want get rid of the question of authorship altogether? The concept of authorship stresses the perspective of us being clearly separable entities, rather than the understanding that we are always, already in constant exchange with each other and with our environment – and therefore nothing is in the end really ‘ours’.

2. Who is the author of improvisation knowledge?
(how can we ever clearly give credit to all of our influences? What are the useful and what are the problematic sides of a system of ‘crediting/referencing’ when it comes to knowledge?)

This question is actually a central question of this Improvisation Knowledge Base, so can be discussed in its own context: Who is the author of the knowledge that we gather here?

Most of us would be able to write pages full of names of the people that influenced us and gave us their knowledge and insight which we carry now. If we look closely, these people would include not only the names of ‘known’ improvisation teachers, and other people that taught us consciously but also of people we might have had a chance encounter with and an inspiring talk on the bus, after which we never saw them again.

It is a known phenomena in scientific referencing that the way people are referenced follows a ‘winner takes all’ distribution: the more known you are already (the more references you already got) the more likely you are to be referenced again. So the number of references doesn’t reflect correctly the actual knowledge that someone transferred, it reflects the effects of the referencing system, in which it is so much more convenient to ‘follow the crowd’ when writing a new scientific paper and looking for references.

So while still some thoughts can obviously be said to be more influential than others, the extent to which these thoughts are attributed to certain people is at least problematic. Who is to say where they got their ideas from? Will the people and environments that they got influenced by ever be properly referenced?

There are good sides to referencing: Wikipedia is build on the idea that we can establish a dicionary of human knowledge through a system of many authors checking each others work, and the checking includes the referencing to ‘existing knowledge’. So this is a good thing, is it not?

For the purpose of this Knowledge Base, we can’t find a clear position yet how we want to deal with this issue. 🙂 So for the time being, we decided not to individually link content to a certain person. Each page that is created has necessarily (for wordpress.com) an ‘author’, but the tekst on that page is not ‘hers/his’ or necessarily written by him/her.

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