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Precollege Philosophy and Public Practice

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published on April 2, 2020

Erica Preston-Roedder

What Can Philosophy Learn from Improvisational Theater?

Can we learn about philosophical practice, and philosophical teaching, by examining an apparently very different discipline—improvisational theater? The short answer: yes! In particular, a consideration of improvisational theater reveals four values—play/playfulness, physicality, ensemble, and inclusivity—all of which have a role in philosophical practice and pedagogy. First, we can think of philosophy as a form of intellectual play, where theatrical techniques demonstrate that play can deepen the focus of our students. Second, philosophical teaching can be done in ways that productively utilize physicality in order to maintain focus or allow students to express their ideas through their bodies. Third, philosophical practice, and teaching, should aim to establish ensemble, which can be understood as a social configuration which establishes equality in terms of mutual dependence and responsiveness. Finally, inclusivity in the philosophical classroom can be heightened through the use of appropriately adapted improvisational techniques. In addition to laying the conceptual groundwork to understand the connection between improvisational theater and philosophy, this essay includes a number of specific exercises for instructors who wish to introduce these techniques to the classroom.