The Rehearsal Process

Inquire : Create : Perform

Developing the relationships that promote creativity and innovation. Applying those relationships to create performances to meet challenges.

The Space of Creation

We shall now move to the other side of the continuum and explore the space of creation.

I believe that all great performances – performances that reveal publicly an understanding of a question or challenge with such insight they shift what is possible – start in the space of creation.  And I also believe that great performances start here not because people are thrown into this space by circumstance but because they enter it by choice.  Either because they feel compelled to address a question or because they realize that their present performance no longer meets the challenge they face. 

When we step fully into a space of creation, no possible performance is visible (or should be visible yet).  Entering into the space of creation asks us to release what we presently believe about the question or challenge (beliefs often based on past patterns, current knowledge, personal biases, etc).  In the course of the work we will develop our understanding, discover our performance, and become ready to reveal that publicly.  At the beginning though, there is only a letting go and a clearing.

Question: what are the practices, rituals, or rules of thumb that you each use to release and clear space (both for yourself and with groups)?   

 Since the space of creation is the place from which our performance will emerge, we focus on the same three areas.  The difference is that we work from the opposite assumption.  If performance is about operating from certainty in the three areas, creation is working from the premise that we know nothing about them.  In creation we are working from the ground up, building clarity as we go.

1.      The System

We endeavour to fully understand the system within which we are acting.

2.      Our Actions  

We seek to know what actions we should take within this system to address the question or challenge.  Furthermore we want to be aware of the impact – intended and unintended - our actions have within the system.

3.      The Signal 

While acting within the system we strive to discover what information / feedback we need to attend to and what we can ignore.  As well, we want to understand the key relationships on which to focus.

Our work in each area naturally influencing the others (as well as influencing us in the process).  As we reach insights in one area, the other two areas shift and change and we see them from a different perspective.  As clarity develops, our understanding about the challenge or question may change to reveal new challenges and questions.  In this organic and interconnected process of inquiry we develop our understanding and our performance takes shape. 

What I believe fuels work in the space of creation (developing clarity in the three areas) is engaging in acts of creation.  There are four movements:

1.      Inquire Deeply 

This is the act of diving deeply into the situation, relationship, etc.  We are not trying to understand or make sense, rather we seek an intimate (embodied) sense of what is occurring.

2.      Reflect Deeply 

We take all of the insight and experience from the inquiry and reflect on it personally.  Asking ourselves “what do I already know?” and “how does that connect with this particular situation?”  We also search for the lived experiences we have which are analogous / isomorphic to the situation in order make the situation personal.

3.      Discover  

We combine what was revealed through inquiry with our own reflections to create a personal expression of understanding.  This can be captured as insights, as “What if” questions for exploration, or revealing new areas for inquiry

4.      Offer Generously  

We share our personal expression of untested understanding with others freely in order to see what connects and sparks with others.

I believe that engaging in these actions individually and collectively gets things moving and keeps them flowing within a space of creation.  Also, that these four actions underpin all the work of moving across the continuum.  The process of creation is iterative and these movements shape the movement within each new cycle.  Therefore I think it is vital when operating within a space of creation that we attend to the conditions that promote these four actions and value the capacities necessary for engaging in each movement.

This brings us back to teams.

When we move into the space of creation the tendency is to import our common social relationship for organizing people - the team relationship.  Not intentionally, rather because it is the default way of operating as a group.  This does not always go well, since the qualities a team relationship promotes - hierarchy, role dependence and outcome focus - are not suited to engaging in acts of creation.  Which means that people in the teams can be operating wonderfully for that relationship and yet make no progress in getting clear on the action, system or signal.  The result, often, is an undermining of the confidence of group in general and those in formal leadership positions in particular.  And no one likes to feel that they are not of value or that their efforts do not make a contribution.  And this is extremely acute with people in formal leadership positions since they have been valued for their ability to get things done.  All of this can lead to a feeling that the challenge or question is unsolvable.  In that case people have the tendency to take the first nascent answers they find and fix on them, or look outside for an answer (this is where best practice becomes a cliché performance).  In both cases the team relationship is seeking to close down the space of creation in order to move back into a space of performance where their way of acting is of value.

Question: Does this description of people moving into a creation space ring true in your experience?  If so, what have you seen?  If not, what have you seen?  Also is there anything about the challenge of people moving into creation that is missing from this description?

It is not that teams operating in the space of creation are doing bad work or acting with ill intent.  Rather the work they need to do is not supported (or valued) within the present group relationship.  They need to draw on a different social relationship as the way of working together so they can engage in acts of creation and begin to get movement in the three areas.

This is where the Ensemble relationship comes into play.  This relationship promotes (and values) the qualities of:

1.      Fluid leadership 

Leadership continually shifts to the person with the capacity to meet the emerging challenge.  Once the challenge shifts or a new one takes focus, leadership moves naturally to the next person.

2.      Role inter-dependence

People understand their responsibilities in relationship to the situation and the people with whom they are connected. People modulate their work in real time to what is occurring across the system.

3.      Purpose focus

Rather than focusing on the immediate outcome to be generated, there is a continual awareness of the largest purpose that wants to be served.  This larger purpose guides what possibilities are pursued.

Question: Are there other qualities or other types of relationship that you see supporting people as they create or venture into unknown territory?

The ensemble relationship also asks those in formal leadership positions to enter into a new paradoxical relationship: that of co-creator whose central responsibility is holding the space of creation open (resisting the pressure to close and move to performance).  The ability of those in formal leadership let go of their authority while exerting it to keep the space of creation open, invite the ensemble relationship and attend to the actions of the ensemble is necessary for success[1].  

Question: Are there other qualities or other types of relationship that you see supporting people as they create or venture into unknown territory?

 The Ensemble relationship creates a platform upon which individuals and groups can engage in ongoing acts of creation.  Establishing this new relationship between people opens up the space of creation; it allows groups to see possibilities, gain insights and create understanding.

In the next post we will explore the four actions of the ensemble (that support engaging in personal and collective acts of creation and allow for the ensemble relationship to emerge) and what it means to invite or convene an ensemble.



[1] Thanks to the work of Frederick Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations for naming this paradox.


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The Space of Performance

Here is the next installment of the inquiry into the building of ensemble and process of creation.  This post focuses on the space of performance – the place in which the ensemble and creation works culminates.  I look forward to any question or comments.

The Space of Performance

The grounding assumption in this work is that action taken by groups operates along a continuum between a space of performance and a space of creation. 

The inquiry starts in the space of performance because I believe our performances are the embodiment of our understanding.  Whether large or small, a performance makes manifest what we believe – it reveals us to the world.  By starting with performance - our embodied understanding - we can seek to discover what process brings that understanding into being.  What it means to travel from creation to performance.  

 With that in mind consider the following definition:

A performance is the public display of our understanding of a challenge/question.

In the theatre analogy, an actor accepts a role and over the course of the rehearsal process will create a performance which embodies all their understanding about the situation, the relationships, and the purpose: everything they believe is of value about the character.  The role is the challenge/question and the performance makes public their understanding (all they have come to know) about that particular challenge/question.

In the same way any service, initiative, product, process, project, platform, or program can be seen as a performance – the public sharing of your understanding (all you have come to know either as an individual or group) about the challenge/question at hand.

Given that, I believe that there are three areas within which it is important to strive for clarity when preparing to share understanding publicly:

The System: We endeavour to fully understand the system within which we are acting.

Our Actions: We seek to know what actions we should take within this system to address the question or challenge.  Furthermore we want to be aware of the impact – intended and unintended - our actions have within the system.

The Signal: While acting within the system we strive to discover what information / feedback we need to attend to and what we can ignore.  As well, we want to understand the key relationships on which to focus.

Each area naturally influences the other.  They do not exist in isolation; rather they are parts of a greater whole.

Reaching complete clarity in each of these areas is rare.  Yet in our preparation for performance I believe we strive toward that ideal.  It is also my belief that we do not seek control by striving for clarity.  Rather we work to release ourselves from the performance and thus be available for what emerges in the moment.  In the literature around the development of expertise, a necessary step in achieving mastery is to make routine as many actions as possible in order to clear cognitive space for higher level challenges.  I would also submit that in performance we need to act from the place of certainty in order to step fully into emergent possibility; one of the key paradoxes in performance.  I would also propose that a performance remains dynamic by taking in real time feedback (part of the signal identified), making adjustments, and achieving ongoing levels of clarity in each area.  This makes it possible to continue to act with certainty and be open to emergent possibility (another key paradox of performance).

If our preparation – the rehearsal process – creates clarity for us in the three areas mentioned above, we can then give ourselves over to the acts of performance[1]:

  1. Direct every action in service of revealing our understanding
  2. Commit fully to the actions discovered (and embodiment is key to this commitment)
  3. Stay connected / aligned to the signals identified in the system as you act

Engaging in these acts of performance – I believe – is what creates focus and therefore confidence within a performance. 

This leads to the most common relationship we have developed to organize groups of people to engage with these acts of performance: the “team”.  A slight disclaimer with this term: when speaking of “team” I refer to the conventional, ordinary sense of the word.  It is not the heightened sense of “team” that is sometimes evoked but the kind of relationship people experience 80% of the time when working in groups.  This “team” has three main characteristics:

Hierarchy: There are defined levels of responsibility and accountability.

Role dependence: People have an area of focus that is associated with a particular role.  They focus their attention within that area, listening to role specific signal.

Outcome focus: There is a clear outcome to be achieved by the team.  Within each role there is an outcome for which they are accountable.

This way of organizing people to engage in performance is one choice.  If we take as an ideal that people are collectively displaying their understanding of a question / challenge after a process where they have developed clarity around the actions, system, and signal, then organizing as a team can be useful in performance.  At that point the three areas mentioned above become more nuanced and the negative impacts in each area are reduced.

I believe the “team” as a way of organizing group performance breaks down when it is only asked to perform and not create (which I believe most teams are asked to do).  When people are assembled into roles, given an outcome, and directed to publicly display the understanding developed by others, a performance will naturally lose its depth.

Within a reduced performance of this type I think you see a greater emphasis on formal leadership and hierarchy.  This is the valuing of the structure of a team rather than the work of a team.  Likewise some leadership development has focused on equipping people in formal leadership positions with the tools / processes to move people quickly into performance.

There are other possible ways to bring people together to realize deep performances that are expressions of understanding.  I will share one that I have been exploring – the ensemble.  But before that we will explore the other side of the continuum - the space of creation – linking it to the space of performance in the next post.



[1] This idea is inspired by the Centre for Creative Leadership who defines leadership as the social processes that result in direction, alignment and commitment.  

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Conscious Improvisation

I participated in an improvisation workshop this week led by Betsy Stover of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (UCB) and it was remarkable.  The way Betsy (and the UCB) approach the art of improvisation highlights a fundamental characteristic that is often overlooked – it is a conscious act of creation.  During the workshop Betsy let us explore the game based scene work that is at the heart of the UCB style of improvisation and in doing so shared invaluable rules of thumb for engaging in conscious improvisation.  And these rules of thumb apply just as much within organizations as within improvisational theatre.

·         Go from A to C: An improvised scene usually begins with a suggestion from the audience.  They may yell out anything from “fishing” to “mother’s day”.  Betsy made it clear that as artists it is not your responsibility to pick up a fishing rod or start shopping for a card.  Rather it was your responsibility to reflect on the suggestion and be inspired.  You may hear “mother’s day” and think of brunch in a restaurant and so the scene begins in a restaurant (again without the need for it to be mother’s day).  This she called going from A to C.  As artists it was our responsibility to act from inspiration, since that will give us the most energy and engagement in the work.  Suggestions were never to be taken as direction and that we rob the scene of power and possibility if we treat them literally.

·         Start by doing (and join in by doing): When we step on stage to begin a scene don’t try and think of what to say; instead invest yourself fully in an action rooted in your understanding of the situation and let ideas flow from that involvement.  And that as a scene partner join in by first doing the action you see taking place to connect yourself immediately to the situation and the other person before you start to contribute.

·         Work from your biggest dream: Improvising is about dreaming up what could be, so take license to think up the biggest possibility in the situation.  Rather than creating a reality where you live in a horrible apartment, what about a situation where this crappy apartment is what you have been looking for all your life?  Or that living in an awful apartment is needed to realize the dream of writing a great novel?  The question you ask yourself is “what is the biggest dream that could happen in this situation?”

·         Work from the top of your intelligence:  within the situation ask the questions that come to you naturally.  If something looks or sounds odd to you, give that feeling voice or action.  By doing this you are adding to the reality of the situation and investing yourself into the world.  This rule of thumb is a command to remember ourselves and be fully present within any situation.

·         Find the Game: With UCB finding the game is at the centre of their style of improvisation.  It is the fuel that propels the scene forward.  When a scene begins the two people onstage quickly establish “normal” – whatever that may mean.  This is done by going from A to C with the suggestion, starting by doing (and joining by doing), working from your biggest dream, and working from the top of your intelligence in order to quickly establish who you are, where you are, and why you are.  Once that “normal” has been established you look to see what unusual thing pops up organically.  If the scene is established as a husband and wife living in a horrible apartment so she can write her great novel, you then look for what unusual thing occurs.  Maybe she has been writing it since she was ten.  If that is what is recognized as unusual, then both characters begin exploring the question “if that is true, then what else could be true?”  Maybe the novel is now so long, the boxes of pages occupy most of the floor space; maybe the furniture is actually boxes of pages from the novel; maybe the Guinness Book of World records is coming by today to confirm he as having written the longest novel ever; and on and on.  The game is what both characters begin to pursue and expand on as they live in the evolving reality of the scene.

What I find most amazing about the work of UCB is that they show that improvisation is a practiced, conscious art of creation.  They have done excellent work articulating what are the steps we take to find the game and begin to improvise (and if you want to read about it, they have published a book outlining their ideas in detail).  Within organizations there is often a desire to embrace improvisation but I worry that it is looked at as a quick fix.  We want to get people thinking on their feet but we are not taking the time to identify what they need to be doing in order to be thinking on their feet in the situation.  UCB has thought about what it takes to get into the game and be able to improvise well.  Not because you are lucky or naturally funny but because you are practiced at key skills and can draw upon those to consciously create in the moment.

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The Rehearsal Inquiry - An Overview

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while since my first blog post inviting you all into the inquiry around building ensemble and the process of creation.  Apologies.  From this point forward I will be putting through regular entries (every two weeks).  As well there will be other posts on various topics (later this week watch for one about improvisation the Upright Citizens Brigade way).

But now on to the inquiry…..

This post will lay out the foundations for the work over the next six months.  It shares the basic assumptions, the approach, and the best thinking for how to begin.

I should also warn you will be receiving the ideas raw.  Usually there is a long process of creation and revision when sharing material and for this project I am going to put that tendency aside.  I am going to embrace the MVP idea of Lean Start Up (MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product and it is a concept used by software developers to get material into the hands of people and have them use it and learn from direct feedback rather than fuss away in private). 

I invite each of you to share your ideas ideas and practices about developing relationship and creating in groups.  If there is something amazing you have been working on and want to share it, please do.  If you have suggestions of areas to inquire into, send those along as well.  I see myself as the instigator of the discussion but never the leader.

One bias I do have will be a focus in this work around the intersection of cognitive psychology, social psychology and neuroscience in the practice of developing relationships and creating in groups (what I will refer to as acts of social creation).  In my work as both a director in theatre and in teaching acting I have worked from a point of view that I needed to remove the obstacles for people creating so they could realize their full potential and expression.  That is still the place from which I operate with people in organizations and I think the work coming out of the three areas I mentioned above is pointing a way to making that belief into an evidence based practice.  As we move through the work I will be referencing material and exploring ways to embodying the emerging work.

Below is a basic outline that I will cover over the following months.  I have broken both the Ensemble Development phase and the Creation Process into chunks of ideas.  These may change – probably will change – but it will give us all a place to start.  There are a lot of terms will not make sense yet (and are still vague for me).  Make note of them and keep an eye out for when we get there to see if they become clearer.

The Project:

·         To craft a practice based approach which deepens the capacity of people to create (inquire, reflect, make, act).  This would focus on establishing the conditions that promote individual and collective creation, then articulating the craft / practices that support ongoing acts of creation.

·         To design a heuristic (rule of thumb) based approach to creating in response to a challenge.  The process would use the individual / group capacity developed during the ensemble as the platform for operating


·         To give people the ability to be confident creators as they face challenges within their organizations or communities

The Method:

·         Identify and articulate every concept and step in the process

·         Identify the heuristics for each phase of the work

·         Create the practices that embody those heuristics

·         Develop the cleanest / clearest application of the work for each phase

·         Build the clear narrative of activities and practices


Ensemble Creation and Capacity Development areas of inquiry:

1.      Spaces of Creation and Performance

2.      Act of Performance

3.      Act of Creation

4.      What defines an Ensemble

5.      When is an ensemble needed

6.      The Central Role of Status

7.      What is meant by Play in an Ensemble

8.      Expanding Attention

9.      Creating Intimacy

10.  Radical Curiosity / Rapid Prototyping

11.  The role of autonomy within Ensemble (being independent and interdependent)

12.  Tools for ensemble capacity development (Liberating Structures – what else?)


Rehearsal Process areas of inquiry:

1.      Ensemble as Second Order Environment

2.      Cycle of Creation

a.      Inquiry / Reflection phase of creating insights

b.      Selecting for Promisingness

c.       Testing / Prototyping

d.      End of Cycle reflection / Identifying of Options

3.      Diagnostic for Locating Project along Continuum between Creation and Performance

4.      Early Stage Cycle of Creation

a.      Characteristics and Focus

5.      Middle Stage Cycle of Creation

a.      Characteristics and Focus

6.      Late Stage Cycle of Creation

a.      Characteristics and Focus

b.      Introducing Practice for Performance


That is everything.  See you in two weeks with the next installment.

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