Chris Johnston on Performance and Improvisation (Quote)


In the beginning, when clouds were God’s breath, and buffaloes roared without fear, and time was uncounted except by death and birth and the sky darkening, there was performance. And it was never counted as special or apart because it was and it was what happened and without it we thought there would be drought and insufficiency and possibly war when you wanted peace, or peace when you wanted war. So we moved and shook and spoke in sequences of unidentified languages and evoked harmony in ourselves and terror in our enemies. And we urged ourselves good fortune and bonded with each other and reinforced ourselves as tribe of reindeer or mountain or lyre bird.

And we took no photographs nor did we issue a press release quoting what a famous critic had said about our previous triumph nor was there a Channel Four documentary team turning our fiction into reality or our reality into fiction. Nor was anyone writing a postdoctorate thesis arguing about physicality in a pre-mediatised society but still there was performance. And the sun cooked our heads until our minds swam with imagined victories. And we roared our affirmations while our children cried in awe and uncertainty and sickness and we looked to see if spirits had entered them. And amongst us in the flames there were one or two who leapt and spiraled with a kind of fever that is a sure sign of possession and so they were listened to for their wisdom, for if we failed to heed them then our wombs might be empty and snakes might carry off our young. And this was performance. But no researcher came with notebook or camera and there was no criticism of how the plot perambulated or the set shook or the actress faked it. For this was performance and improvisation, and it happened and it happened often and it was at the heart of things.


–Chris Johnston, opening of his book The Improvisation Game: Discovering the Secrets of Spontaneous Performance