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Paul F. Tompkins and Charlie Todd debate the ethics of Improv Everywhere

Posted by vinny9 on November 14, 2009 with category tags of

I agree with a lot of Paul F. Tompkins' ideas theoretically, and I agree with Charlie Todd's responses practically. The fact that what I did with Epione was NOT meant to provoke smiles argues even more strongly for Tompkins' point.
And yet, I still love the idea of it. It is exactly what Todd's example was involving Kaufman and Zmuda. We did provoke people, piss people off, and maybe sometimes people even cry (certainly not during the performance). It is certainly ethically dubious.
Maybe it is just a masturbatory exercise as an actor. I am totally jazzed by the idea of AFFECTING people. And this is affecting people to the extreme. They don't pay and agree to a contract that anything goes (although perhaps that's not so true on the NYC subway...). They are normal people having something relatively terrible shoved in their face. And it affects them.
I like that.
   comment by Gbrowdy (#55) on November 14, 2009

I find Paul's kindness-toward-others to be affecting and appealing, but I'm not sure he's right. Or rather - I think he might be right in his concerns about "comedy" and, maybe, bog-standard theatre, but not more generally. It's telling that neither party talk about performance art. I think most people in the improv/standup spheres haven't had much contact with it. But there's a long history of "invasive" performance art, guerilla performance art, and a LOT of discourse about the ethics thereof. Particularly as performance art's stated goal will almost never be to "entertain people" or "bring a smile to people's faces". (It's not generally going to be "mean" either - just more complicated in its intention.)

Part of what makes guerilla performance so interesting is that it's, yes, a fundamental break from the contract through which we engage most art... but there's nothing making that a priori "wrong".
   comment by Sean on November 14, 2009


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