Preben Friis – a portfolio for the degree of MA at University of Hertfordshire

Abstract

”The relevance of theatre and improvisations to consulting for organisational change” is the thesis I’m exploring. I do this from my position as a theatre person who has been using theatre in consulting for 9 years as a member of the Dialogus Theatre.

In consultancy, theatre as a method or tool is used in many ways, from illustrating behaviour to training communication skills and rehearsing for new action. Theatre is also often used as a metaphor to illuminate how organisations function.

My focus is different. Through my two years of research my main interest has moved to focusing on exploring how one might understand ‘improvising’ in both theatrical and organisational terms and how this understanding may influence change processes in organisations and the work of consultants.

I have examined literature from both the fields of theatre and consulting as well as writings about ‘theatre in consulting’. My practical research has taken place in client organisations as well as in my own, and I have been writing narratives as one way of reflecting on my experiences. Another way of reflecting has been conversations with my fellow students in my learning set and colleagues as well as clients.

I am presenting the argument that processes of change in organisations are improvisational in nature if not always in intent, and that it is important to acknowledge that the work of organising largely takes place “live”. It is in the daily interaction among members of the organisation that patterns of organising are created, and it is in the ongoing gesturing and responding between people on all levels that these patterns are being sustained and changed. The work of change thus means paying attention to the fact that we find ourselves moment by moment involved in an ongoing improvisation, which demands our presence. I propose that we need to understand presence in terms of our openness to being altered by what we experience in our interaction with others.

I argue that theatre offers to work in a very practical way with a paradoxical, simultaneous intertwining of fiction and reality, which is different from the way some management theorists work with strategy as a future state to be defined (ie a ‘fiction’) and implemented on the basis of the gap between the imagined and the ‘reality’ of the current state.

I also argue that this has implications for our theatrical work, which must then be based on improvisations rather than performing scripted plays, and that improvising means involving our clients as well as our selves in the paradoxical act of being experienced (in the sense of being ‘knowledgeable’) and acting spontaneously at the same time and thus risking being altered by what happens.