Connectedness in theatre work

What have been your experiences of “connectedness”?

The concept is an interesting one in life and in the arts. Feeling connected to the world around you. Feeling connected to your fellow friends and family.

What does it mean to be “in touch” with yourself?

On stage, a cast tends to be in touch when there is a high degree of physical and emotional trust in each other. There is comfort with physical contact, with eye contact.

Trust seems to be important and, over time, trust in a cast increases.

Where there is too much caution, a cast can feel “disconnected” and the dialogue can be clumsy and stilted.

Creating connection may involve taking risks, and here the ghosts of our personal life – our bad experiences of connection can limit our “Performance”  – both in life and on the stage.

In recent years the issue of contact has become key to individual and organisation development. Getting back “in touch” with ourselves and also learning to feel more fluently connected to others has spawned approaches such as Contact Improvisation.

Contact Improvisation is a dance form in which the point of contact with another dancer provides the starting point for a movement exploration. It is most frequently performed as a duet, but can be danced by more people. There can be music or it can happen in silence. It is about sharing weight, rolling, suspending, falling, passive and active, energy and awareness.”

This approaches has been adapted in the world of applied improvisation and is part of a wider “movement” to encourage human beings to enjoy contact, even as legislation and codes of conduct in many organisations try (for reasons of safety) to limit or even eliminate human-to-human contact.

Yet the idea of connectedness is, rather ironically, at the heart of many business strategies. We are supposed to “keep in touch with each other”. On social networking sites online, we are regularly “poked” and “virtually hugged”. We kiss on texts and emails. We are supposed to be connecting with our customers and suppliers, and we are supposed to be “in touch” with their needs. Yet, physically, touch is becoming more publicly taboo. Touch, especially with people we know less well, is a “danger” sign. Yet in contact improvisation touch becomes something that creates confidence, and permission to connect. It is often startling to see how quickly people in improvisation workshops get confident and comfortable physically with each other.

How do we resolve this disconnect between recognising the power of connection, even as we edit it physically out of our organisational systems and behavioural norms? Will connectedness only be virtual in the future, where our “avatars” connect, but our physical counterparts do not?

There is also evidence in sports and theatre to suggest that effectiveness in groups is higher when there are higher levels of eye and body contact, where there is an “ease” with others on a physical level. In many sports the “hugs” when goals are scored are seen as tangible reinforcers and motivators towards further better performance.

In organisational theatre, connectedness is currently a regularly explored and powerful theme. In workshops, connection activities and exercises are experienced as empowering and “freeing” during the workshop; however, disempowerment and demotivation soon arises when people go back to work and find that rules and norms prevent them safely applying what they have experienced. A paradox arises – the more we provide “ideal experiences” of connectedness in our applied theatre work, the more we can actually disempower when our participants return to the more cautious, physically mistrustful “real world”

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