Improvising our Way through Tragedy: How an Improv Comedy Community Heals itself through Improvisation (
It can be easy when you’re immersed in academia to kind of forget what the point is. I’m starting a series where I write about scholarship that I’ve found inspiring. Today I’m starting with Jason Scott Quinn’s Improvising our Way through Tragedy: How an Improv Comedy Community Heals itself through Improvisation.

Why did I read this?

I’m (still) working on a study I started a year ago as a project for my Advanced Qualitative Methods class. Sadly, I didn’t go through IRB, so I can’t publish anything from the study. I’ll just say that I am looking at how learning happens in the context of an improv team, specifically a team that performs the Harold. I picked this site not because it’s key to my research interests (though I can certainly argue that improv is a fruitful environment for connected learning), but because I knew it would be easy to get access.

As a smaller assignment leading up to the full report on the study, I’m doing a small literature review. I’m specifically looking at studies on improv comedy with an eye to their conceptual frameworks, use of theory, and audience. I came across this article in the course of doing my literature search for this lit review.

What’s so inspiring about it?

Content: This is an article about how the NYC improv community used dialogue and performance to heal after 9/11. I mean, that right there pushes a ton of my inspiration buttons. Anything that brings together community, healing, and performance is going to tug at my heartstrings. Also, it’s about improv, and while I’m taking a break of indeterminate length from performing and watching improv due to early parenthood and some other stuff, I still find improv fascinating.

Methodology: This is a qualitative study  using autoethnography. Before I started this project, I wasn’t sure about autoethnography. I thought it sounded self-indulgent. But as I’ve gone through the process of collecting data and reflecting on my own experiences with improv, as well as my experiences with other communities, I’m really beginning to see the value of research that connects the personal to the broader world.

Presentation: This is what really makes this an inspirational piece for me, though. The results of this study are presented as a performance piece. This piece integrates quotes from message board postings, monologues, and improvisational performance. It provides an excellent model for me of how to use this kind of representation. It’s something that the assigned readings for my qual methods class touched on, but it offers a model that speaks very directly to my interests. Sadly, my final presentation for the class will have to be fully digital and thus won’t incorporate improv like this piece did. I wish it could, though, and this has been really helpful in thinking about how, if I ever do research on improv in the future, I might represent those results.

Should I read this?

If you’re interested in how improvisation can be a part of research presentations, absolutely. Also if you just like to read about improv, yes. Quinn’s language is accessible and will introduce you to some interesting theory you might not already know.