Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Action Explorations: The Field

Originally posted on February 6, 2013

This field involves improvisation, enactment, insight, and collaborative creativity.

Insight involves bringing that which is hardly admitted even to oneself into explicit expression in the group. It helps people be more conscious, to include more within their critical capacity. In turn, that allows people to update old and obsolete attitudes, immature thought patterns, habitual reactions, and other elements. It allows for in-life corrections (a play on in-flight corrections).

Enactment is doing it rather than just talking about it. Doing it involves a risk that some things that weren’t anticipated might show up. That’s what makes for scientific experimentation. Action research or experiential learning is what goes on for pilots in flight training. It was spoken about by pioneers in education such as John Dewey. It involves trying stuff out, failing, re-thinking, trying it again slightly differently.

We are still a bit too oriented to the realms of words—i.e., what’s known as “logocentricity.” But we’ve become aware that systems are in fact so complex that many problems do not follow mere logic. Or in many situations it’s impossible to include or even be aware of all possible influences. Some problems transcend pure logic and partake of the non-rational and the fluctuations due to the complexities of individualities of persons, groups, and types of endeavor interfacing with each other. In other words, finding out what should be done can not be based on the assumption that this or that theory can anticipate all eventualities. Instead, we need to experiment. We need to do it and check to see how it goes. This is action exploration. This is cybernetics, the principle of using feedback to make in-course corrections, and repeating the process many times.

Psychodrama added several levels or angles, including working with the human condition, the reality of the non-rational, both trying to help it become a little more rational, or if that can’t be done, then at least trying to take non-rational elements into consideration. (This is one way of thinking about sociometry and psychodrama.)

Other Action Explorations

It’s time, though, to acknowledge and make bridges to several other significant socio-cultural movements:

Process drama in education (DIE) (not TIE, “Theatre in Education”) is also improvised, non-scripted, sometimes sociodramatic, historical, literary, spiritual (e.g., bibliodrama), learning by doing, often with no specific lesson that can be clearly articulated. One learns to do as well as learning about. Other streams who never heard of Moreno have something to offer and perhaps something to gain by this bridge-building.

Applied Improvisation: Deriving from improv theatre, Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin being remarkable pioneers, including some elements from various kinds of competitive Theatrersportz, the idea that the skills involved also apply to helping organizations and businesses be more creative, flexible, and innovative.

Simulations: Another field growing from the use of complex mannequins in medical care, expanding to simulated patients for medical training, this approach to professional education has moved beyond technical skill building and into the realm of the psycho-social skill-development. Empathy-building, mental flexibility, self-care, all of these area are also forms of role development and practice.

Other intermediate areas include Theatre of the Oppressed and its associated methodologies; Playback Theatre and its associated methodologies, and other types of “applied theatre.” The point mainly is that shows aren’t just done to entertain audiences, or to evoke a catharsis, but rather as a more personal form of consciousness-raising. I anticipate training in all these aforementioned fields.

Spontaneity training itself, in activities therapy, in improv classes in the community, as the Art of Play, and mixed with dance, music, or other expressive media, transform those media. The arts become vehicles not just of popular expression, but of popular empowerment as multi-modal beings. People should not just be evaluated in terms of performance, but in terms of life enjoyment and community-building. That is to say, not everyone who takes an improv class needs to become good enough to entertain audiences. It is enough to just add some more of that into one’s life experience. These, too, are valid and wholesome.

Collaborative Creativity

Add to this not just improvisation (making it up rather than waiting for others to have written the music or the script or choreographed the dance steps), and action (rather than just talking about it), the power of a group that isn’t competitive but collaborative. In medium small groups, others become supporters, encouraging you, enjoying what you do, perhaps building on it and giving you more ideas for further creativity. People do “yes-and” with each other rather than “no, but.”  This is already beginning to happen in business.

Getting “better” doesn’t mean that before you were sick. It may be that you were fine, but we now have more tools to foster further flourishing, better than okay. An attitude like this is what the world needs at present. It’s a bit idealistic. Some might call it “spiritual,” or treat it as a new more invigorating form of re-creation (literally), life invigoration. Rather than find a compartment to put it in, let’s leave it as an “open at the top” step in human evolution.

Spirituality Development

This is more than merely following the rules: There is no authorized correct answer, no one who can bless us in a way that reassures us that we’re on the “right” track. Rather, we all act together in the spirit of kindness and authentic searching and we come up with one thing after another. More, it turns out that what works for one person or subgroup might not work for another—and may not even be of much intellectual or aesthetic interest to others. This is “free market” philosophy, a time to let go of the prideful assumptions that what feels vividly so and true and good for some must therefore apply to others. It won’t. My son put it this way: “If you like that sort of thing, then perhaps this is the sort of thing you’ll like.”

What is at stake here is a postmodern relinquishment to truth claims mixed with a very positive sense of support: It doesn’t matter much which formulas or images work to bring you towards kindness: If they work for you, let’s support that. It may be just fine that different formulas or images work for us. The dogma, the content, the specificity of belief, is not the focus; rather, it’s the process, the way people can collaborate in bringing others forth. And it’s up to the others to say whether they even want any help from this group—it may be that they feel more support from a quite different group. Can that be okay, too?

A New Category: Action Exploration

So what I’m proposing is that we recognize that there are a number of sub-categories within this general category I call “action exploration.” Characterized by improvisation, enactment, deepening levels of insight and self-disclosure, and collaborative creativity, Action Explortions thus include:
– psychodrama
– sociodrama,
– process drama in education
– axiodrama as a way to discuss semantics and philosophy
– applied improvisation in business
– bibliodrama—action explorations in religious and literary education
– simulations and role playing in professional and other kinds of skills training
– spontaneity training in general culture
– aspects of drama therapy  or applications in marriage counseling, self-help and support groups, and personal development.


What needs to be done is more crossing-over to related fields, more inviting people from those fields to present at conferences, more integrating the best ideas from all these related approaches, sharing what we’ve learned with them, etc. I would like your comments as to what other related fields need to integrated, in quest of a more effective way to communicate and address challenges.

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