Monday, July 30, 2012

Project: The Tao of Improv, an introduction

I recently read the ridiculously wonderful and still-just-as-relevant-as-it-was-in-2000 article A Dao of Web Design on A List Apart. It is the thoughts of a designer living at a time when the expectation for a website was to be "pixel-perfect" on each browser, a feat that was difficult to accomplish to say the least. He uses passages from the Tao Te Ching to highlight why he thinks this approach must be set aside.

Long story short, in reading the article, I realized that many of the passages could equally pertain to improv. Not a new idea, as he points out that everything from Winnie the Pooh to Physics has gotten the Tao treatment, but that was the 90's, 20+ years ago, so now it will be delightfully retro chic to apply it to my particular set of interests.

So I picked up a copy of the Tao Te Ching and have started reading it with one eye always on improv and how these passages can contain lessons on our favorite performance art form. Already I have made some copious notes, so I wanted to start a semi-regular series on the passages and the thoughts I had on them. Hopefully opening them up for further discussion.

Note that I am in no way a Taoist or real student of the Tao. These posts will be mostly based on a very brief reading of one translation of the Tao Te Ching, with little time given for true introspection and analysis. Mostly just gut reactions to the work and the things that pop to mind when I read them. Perhaps later there will be time to truly study it and make deeper connections, but that isn't the point right now. The point is to write, and the Tao Te Ching will act as one of my inspiration engines.


  1. Tao is an interesting concept for improv. At the SC training center, part of the reading list were a couple of books on Zen. I always saw good improv being spiritually represented by a combination of Zen (the knowing without knowing), completely honest in the moment of the scene with no forethought, and Vodoun (voodoo) where adherents call on Loas, various supernatural agents, literally "horsemen" to come ride them. I compared this to that following the follower aspect of improv.

  2. I love anything that will get you writing about improv more, but the Kerouac-mainlining, Dalai Lama-loving, faux hippie of my college years is particularly loving this.

    Phill, nice call on the Loas (sorry... that goes back to the Ishmael Reed-lover of my college years).