improvisation issues – Common Ground

This is a section that is in draft mode. We are working on it. Please contribute.


Next to the formal agreements (see Context), each time we perform there is the issue of common ground: which types of interaction are the performers using to connect and interact with each other on stage? How do they read each other? What is their common language?

Groups that perform regularly have build such a common ground through working together, which means the way they interact doesn’t need to be verbally defined each time they perform: There are tacit agreements that are part of the group culture. Everybody ‘knows’ the context in which to perform.

When improvisers gather who don’t know each other and are asked to function in an interdisciplinary setup, we don’t have the luxury to lean on such unspoken agreements (which by the way can also be problematic for groups who have worked together for a long time, but that is another story).

Let’s try to define what we mean with this ‘common ground’ from an interdisciplinary perspective.


In principle, once an improvisation starts, there is already a connection between the performers on stage. Our awareness of it might be clouded, but in principle you don’t have to prepare for being connected, you ARE. It is a pretty crucial thing to realise, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like that at all.

As improvisation performers, we like to gain a ‘sure sense’ of our connectedness – to feel the undercurrent that is already there. That is why different improvisation practitioners have developed many different work forms to achieve this ‘sense of connectedness’.

One interesting observation is that ‘clarity/definition’ and ‘connectedness’ are helping each other. The more you have a clear picture of the context you are in, the (maybe unspoken) ‘rules of the game’, the identity of yourself and the other players, the more connected you will feel. This clarity/definition of context is sometimes achieved purely intuitively, and sometimes it is useful to name it, or to conduct an exercise in order to clarify it.

One way to bring about a Common Ground:
Define a Type of Interaction

By giving a certain focus on one type of interaction, the players automatically ‘gather around’ that focus and much easier feel their connectedness.

For example, “Interact only by looking at each other, not by touch, movement, words or sound. Look people in the eyes and experience the effect their gaze has on you”, could be a preparation exercise that one can do with an interdisciplinary ensemble prior to a performance. This very narrow rule can be dropped once the performance starts, but will have a strong effect on the way the performers feel connected, all through the following piece.

Another example that probably works for any type of discipline would be:
“Communicate to each other simply by the act of starting and stopping”.
This could even be an interesting Structure for the performance itself (see further under Structures/Limitations), but the point to make here is that it is a good preparation to enhance the awareness of a group’s interconnectedness that will carry on into the performance, even if the performance has no such rules.

So imposing a very strict limit on the Type of Interaction allowed is one way to create a Common Ground.

Later on these rules can be dropped (or not), but they will have given the group of performers a ‘tactile’ sense of their connectedness, simply because for a while they have gathered around ONE type of interaction.

Other ways of working?

A focus that clarifies the interaction between performers is of course just one way to bring about connectedness. But it seems that most improvisation practitioners use mainly this method, or derivates of this method to create a ‘Common Ground’ in a group of performers.

The here described method is to start with a strict frame – a narrow focus on the types of interaction allowed to the group – and slowly open it up towards more free expression and free interaction. But we can imagine work methods that tackle the issue from a different angle or even opposite to this. Please contribute to this page if you have anything to say about other ways to bring about ‘Common Ground’.

Note that the creation of Common Ground (although slightly related) is a separate issue from the subject of explicit Structures, which we try to define in this section of the Knowledge Base. The difference between the two could be described with the fact that Common Ground deals with establishing ‘implicit knowledge’ of context for the performers (focussing the way they read each other and interact in preparation to a performance), while Scores/Structures define ‘explicit knowledge’, like a conscious framework for the improvisation piece that is about to be performed.



Session leaders in the Carpet Sessions have brought in different modes of working that all seem to use the method of first narrowing down the interaction and then opening it up.  But there were also a few in het first half of 2011 who worked differently — This below section could be worked out more. If you were a session leader, please contribute with your findings…

…some examples:

“One thing”/Seperation-muscle:  connecting through clarity in action: Clarity of intention / clarity of worlds / clarity in the definition of space

Drone/Polyphony:  creating a constant group-connectedness and reference through the musical concept of drone/polyphony – transferred to any type of performative action

Doppelgänger: interaction models based on ‘being one’ (no seperation) and the format of doubling/re-interpreting material.

Arriving / Touch:  interaction modes related to arriving and leaving / dramaturgy of ‘moving towards’ and completion

Ketjak/Interlocking:  having the undercurrent of a constant ‘unstable’ rhythm – even if not audible. A silent or very active pushing energy as the basis for all types of interaction.


Improvisation is a space, a set of structures where you have the opportunity to not perform. Where you can allow all of yourself to come up. The parts of yourself that you lost through a normative, linear, narrative,


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