Rehearsing democracy: Enhancing community through the interdisciplinary performance improvisation series 'Shared Agendas'


This article presents the inter-disciplinary improvised performance series Shared Agendas, an annual event at the University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand, as a vehicle for reinforcing effective democratic community interaction. I am referring to interaction that is inclusive, open, non-hierarchical, non-judgemental and socially responsive and responsible. In couching these inclusive spontaneous events as a form of academic meeting, where members work together to solve problems and find a common ground of understanding or agreement, I contend that the artists involved are practising the kind of socially concerned democratic process that we might wish for all groups, organisations or nation states worldwide. Dance therapist Adwoa Lemieux (1988) suggests that, within a danced improvisation, any difficulties and conflicts of interest are evident, physical, real, immediate and therefore immediately resolvable. In this form of community engagement, the conversation is directed towards co-operation, mutual sharing and communication between the performers, technical personnel and the viewers as active critical witnesses. Because of the intense engagement and preoccupation with the process by all participants, including the audience, this kind of performance meeting becomes what Schechner (1988) terms, a 'living entity' or microcosm of society. In describing this theatre of inter-relationship, I draw on the literatures of art and social justice theory, deep ecology, cognitive biology, somatics, perception psychology, education and dance in order to support this discussion.

@ The University of Waikato