A photo looking down at several rows of pink picnic chairs placed six feet apart and facing away from the camera. The chairs are in an outdoor sports field with white, blue, yellow, and red lines painted on the grass.

Improvising Futures:

Lessons from COVID-19

Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 13:30 - 15:00

Live panel on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event.


Join Now in room E

Performance and Play as Post-Covid Re-Commoning Strategies


Following John Mathews’ conception of performance training as a meta-disciplinary tool (2011), this paper will act as a playful provocation to reflect on the relevance of our performance practices, our willingness to apply our experiences and skills to provide appropriate accompaniments to our peers, communities and equity seeking groups – to engender change that is as pervasive and transformative as the pandemic itself.

After witnessing the mixture of indifference and inability of governments to provide substantive support for community-arts-based organisations during the 2020 pandemic, we are right to be alarmed and to question the purpose of our chosen vocation’s relevance and position in a post-pandemic world. The central question of purpose and position of the arts in/as the public sphere was irrevocably re-contextualised during 2020, with global movements such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter demanding a collective questioning of the symbolic meanings and embedded biases in cities across the world.

Shunning the privilege of returning to the relative comfort and safety of the rehearsal space, green room, or auditorium to apply our crafts, we have a unique opportunity to learn from the porousness of the pandemic, and the global communities’ ability to improvise new, radical life-spaces into being — and to ask ourselves, honestly; how can we be most generous with our practices and knowledges? How might we apply them to provide accompaniment to equity seeking peers, communities, and movements in our shared post-pandemic world? And how do we collaborate within our newly forged public spheres to support sustainable social change beyond the limited performance-ecologies of our own disciplines (176)?

Works Cited:

Mathews, John, Training for Performance: A meta-disciplinary account, Methuen, 2011.


Steve Donnelly is a live artist from Wales. His work explores and combines his interests in improvised play, performance studies, contemporary and historical uses of social space, popular culture, belief, and the commons. His research interests include: Infinite Play as Improvisation; critical walking, psychogeography, and vernacular speculative practices; and the use of humor in art. Steve is a Graduate Student in Critical Studies in Improvisation at University of Guelph, Ontario.

Emergent and Convergent Practices in Critical Studies in Improvisation and Applied Theatre: Living and Learning through Crisis and Recovery


As emergent fields of inquiry, Critical Studies in Improvisation (CSI) and Applied Theatre (AT), utilize the practice of creative improvisation with aggrieved communities to investigate and challenge human rights and social justice issues. CSI roots itself in provocations from the American Civil Rights Movement, critical race theory, critical pedagogy, musical improvisation and community-based methodologies. Improvisation is framed as a social practice through an interdisciplinary lens, to reimagine the role of the academy and close the gap between theorized and lived community experiences. Whilst the research, practice and scholarship in AT, converges with critical pedagogy, western political and participatory forms of theatre, where improvisation games and exercises are central to workshops and performance creation.

“Our current “moment” of danger has lasted for decades, confronting us with a seemingly endless stream of recurrent crises and chaotic conditions.” (Lipsitz and Tomlinson, 2019, 1)

As communities find themselves amidst a global health pandemic and historical crises, both fields of inquiry have much to add to the research, practice and scholarship of theatre and performance, particularly in relation to creating collaborative community-engaged legacy projects beyond the pandemic. This interactive synchronous presentation will therefore aim to answer the following questions:

  • How can we better understand embodied crisis and recovery by converging the research, practice and scholarship of CSI and AT?
  • What role can the convergence of research, practice, and scholarship of CSI and AT play when thinking about the future of theatre and performance beyond the global pandemic?

Work Cited:

Tomlinson, Barbara, and George Lipsitz. Insubordinate Spaces: Improvisation and Accompaniment for Social Justice. Temple University Press, 2020.


Jemma Llewellyn is a PhD student at the University of Guelph studying Critical Studies in Improvisation. As an Applied Theatre practitioner from Wales, UK, Jemma’s research, practice and scholarship focuses on amplifying youth voices through adult allyship. Her research project titled Staging Digital Youth: Allyship, Activism and Art, uses youth-led participatory action research to investigate improvised multimodal activist performances online. By inviting adults in positions of educational, governmental, and parental power to participate in research-based theatre, the project aims to build a creative dialogical space for youth and adults to work in collaboration and respond to emerging calls to action.

Theatre Can Be Healthful During A Global Game of Improv


Since the start of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a giant global game of improvisation. Suddenly, businesses, schools, family, and individuals had to adapt, be flexible, and build narratives together without prearrangement. The pandemic asked everyone to respond with a “Yes, and!” mindset in order to play with new ideas in response to the constantly changing “performance” in a pandemic.

Hartley, a facilitator and lecturer at McMaster University, was tasked with developing new ways to teach theatre and improv online to health science students and health care professionals. Naomi, a fourth year Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) student and newly minted director of the Health Sci Musical (HSM), was responsible for devising and coordinating the program’s first Zoom musical. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Naomi assembled a team of actors, producers, choreographers and musicians to devise BHScreen Time while Hartley taught applied theatre and improv to BHSc students, doctors, dentists, and allied healthcare workers.

This presentation and performed dialogue will examine the lived experience of directing and facilitating theatre within health science education. The presenters will identify the transferable skills of making theatre virtually and the value of modelling, teaching, and learning through drama in a pandemic. What can health science students gain from engaging with theatre and performance in a Covid-19 world? What are the unique and important features that performance offers health and healthcare? How can theatre be healthful in a pandemic?


Hartley Jafine is an instructor in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) program and Arts & Science program at McMaster University, where he facilitates theatre and arts-based courses. He is also a lecturer (part-time) with the Department of Family Medicine. His areas of teaching and research are in health humanities, applied theatre, and arts-based research practices. For over a decade he has been integrating drama and serious play within health professions education. He is interested in questions of how the arts can enhance education and the performance of healthcare roles, build community, and raise critical consciousness. When not on the McMaster campus, Hartley works as a communication coach with the University of Toronto’s Postgraduate Medical Education program and an arts educator at Baycrest Health Sciences. 

Naomi Frazer is a recent graduate from the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) program at McMaster University, and has enjoyed participating in many courses and initiatives related to theatre and music over the years. She has been involved in the Health Sciences Musical throughout university as a cast member, vocal director and most recently director for the 2020-2021 year, in a virtual format. She is curious about the ways in which the creative arts and healthcare intersect and complement one another. She believes in the power of community and relationship-building in and outside of the academic sphere and is hoping to integrate this into a profession within healthcare.