Improvisation On the Edge

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Improvisation On the Edge

Notes from On and Off Stage

Author: Ruth Zaporah Foreword by: Rinde Eckert, Joan Sunderland, Roshi

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Directed not only toward actors, dancers, and other performing artists who draw upon improvisation as part of their craft, this Zen-infused memoir of a life lived creatively will pique the interest of anyone in search of liberation from self-limiting concepts. What does it mean to live in a body? What does it mean to improvise? Do we wonder whether we’re capable of improvising—to make up things as we go, step into the unknown, take a risk that changes our notion of ourselves and the world?

Author Ruth Zaporah has been a professional physical theater performer, writer, director, and teacher for forty years. Early on she realized that with a shift of perception, every moment of an improvisation holds both the familiar and the utterly new. With the same shift, so does every moment of life; every moment holds both the known and the unknown. And, as Zaporah says, “The body leads the way in this book. In each chapter the world is experienced by it and of it. It is the body that adds richness, wildness, and grace. The body invokes images and feelings. It is the body that imagines.”

Improvisation on the Edge recounts events from Zaporah’s life such as improvisational shows in the war zones of Sarajevo and Kosovo; apprenticing with a Huichol medicine woman from Chiapas, Mexico; understanding the concept of “practice” while on a beach; a bus ride in Cuba; a car ride in Estonia; the intricacies of onstage collaborations. Interspersed are chapters about awareness, listening, adapting, resiliency, time, space, silence, simplicity—all within the context of everyday life in the body. In several other chapters, Ruth writes from the logical (and nonlinear) voice of the improviser as she is on stage, within the immediate embodied process. A fascinating glimpse into the mind of an artist and true master of improvisation, this book will appeal to performers, teachers, and anyone who has ever needed to “wing it” with confidence and grace.

Table of Contents
1. Something That Needs Listening To 2. Mirror Mirror 3. On My Wall 4. Tutu Solitude 5. A Mind in Three Episodes 6. A Splish Splash Orchestra 7. A Take on Talk 8. Bobby’s River 9. Roar 10. Meet Yourself Babe 11. Nuts and Bolts 12. Out of Chaos 13. Changing Course 14. The Flying Shaman 15. You Could Say Death 16. Ain’t It The Truth 17. The Raging Boomerang 18. See This Feel That 19. Stalking War 20. Your Mother Just Died Christina, Leave the Backdoor Open 21. The Illusive Genture 22. A Pack of Lies 23. Again Gun and Boys 24. A Ride in Estonia 25. Art and Heart 26. Floating to the Surface 27. Stuffed With Junk 28. A Chair in Cuba 29. Any Where Practice 30 Teacher Says 31. Older and Under

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About the Author

Perhaps the most influential improv artist of her generation, RUTH ZAPORAH is a performer and director known internationally for her innovative work in physical theater improvisation training. Zaporah is the creator of Action Theater, an improvisational performance skill training process that is used in dance and theater institutes all over the world. She is a two-time recipient of National Endowment Choreography Fellowships and in 1994 was honored with a Sustained Achievement award by the San Francisco Bay Area Dance Association. She has served as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S. State Department. Zaporah spends much of her time on tour, performing and leading trainings both in the U.S. and abroad in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, England, Australia, China, and Israel. She has a special interest in performing for unconventional audiences: in 1994, she performed in theaters and refugee camps in Serbia and Croatia during the Yugoslav wars, followed by special performances in 2000 in Kosovo and Sarajevo. Her articles on improvisation have been regularly published in Contact Quarterly, a magazine for new dance forms, and she is a contributor to Shambala Publications's anthology Being Bodies: Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment.

Reviews/Press Quotes

“Ruth Zaporah dives lyrically into our subtle inner worlds, showing us how improvising onstage is as deep and spontaneous as living at its best. For ‘impro- vising,’ read ‘living fully in the moment.’ Everyone needs to absorb this book.”
Jean-Claude van Itallie, playwright, performer, and teacher

"Improvisation on the Edge is an instant classic in the still meager literature of improvisation. In a series of short chapters, legendary performer and teacher Ruth Zaporah shares some of the hard-earned lessons and practical wisdom she has gained from a lifetime spent on the cutting edge of creativity. Recounting stories of her travels, her collaborators, and her performances, Zaporah allows us a glimpse into what drives the fearlessness and rigor of her Action Theater form. Improvisation on the Edge is a master class for performers in any genre, a love letter to improvisation and the human creative drive, and an eloquent examination of the ways in which improvising and living become indistinguishable to those brave enough to become fully aware in the now."—Kent De Spain, author of Landscape of the Now: A Topography of Movement Improvisation

“In the forty years since she invented Action Theater, Ruth Zaporah has navigated the invisible and revolutionized the art of performance. Her art takes improvisation into the vast dimension beyond biography, beyond psy- chology, beyond thinking, beyond calculation, to allow performer and audi- ence to experience real things happening, to live the absolute moment. Part shaman, part disrupter, star, sage, and teacher, she has evolved a strict system of preparation that conditions body, voice, and soul for whatever comes up. I went to her to shake my writing free of all the selfs—self-criticism, self- consciousness, self-regard, ego. She gave my writing freedom, and she freed me to perform. This remarkable, moving, and profound book is the map of her journey, and the door into another world.”—Joan Juliet Buck, writer, editor, and actor

“These tales invigorate and inspire like a cup of strong black coffee. Ruth weaves word spells so we suddenly are traveling with her back and forth between our wild imagination and this relative world, and to Croatia and Yugoslavia.
“If you are a theater maker, read this. If you improvise, read this. If you teach creative process, read this and share it with your students. Wondrous stories from a powerful and tender woman artist, teacher, meditator, and embodied improvisator.
“We are caught by surprise, comforted by the familiar, and filled with gratitude as Ruth unfolds the mystery of the ‘inside of things.’ In front of us is an open field. A wild wood surrounds it. Everything we find out there folds into our spontaneous improvisation. The characters we inhabit are fully human yet are fluid and magical.
“Truly a gift to the next generation; to teachers and performers and artists. So many ecstatic declarations of having this body, right here, right now. Relish these tales of the inventive glory in teaching embodied improvisation then ponder the questions between teacher and student.”—Barbara Dilley, professor of contemporary performance at Naropa University, contemplative arts practitioner, and author of Teaching Thinking Dancing

“Ruth Zaporah has truly loved her art, listened to it, been surprised by it, submitted to its demands, followed it faithfully, and through this deep prac- tice has gained a profound mastery of creative work and of life. She has developed improvisation as a true form of Zen—the white space of the stage meets the open mind of the meditator. Embodied presence as Ruth shows it is an important doorway to understanding what it’s all really about. Reading Ruth’s book is exhilarating and encouraging for anyone wanting to live a genuine and creative life; it makes me glad to be alive.”—John Tarrant, author of The Light Inside the Dark— Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life

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