BY: JAY REID
Welcome to Part Two of a series exploring improv and the University Of Guelph. Read the first article here.
When you google, “university of guelph improv” (who uses capitals when googling?) one of the first things you’ll find is “The International Institute for Critical Studies In Improvisation”. Sounds impressive, right? An international institute for improv? Yes, And... it’s headquartered in our little hippie-town of Guelph.
IICSI is the brainchild of Guelph Jazz Festival founder professor, Ajay Heble, and its mandate “is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action.” While centred on The University of Guelph, IICSI has partner sites at McGill, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Memorial University in St. John’s, University of Regina, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Not only that, they have 58-researchers and partnerships with 30 more community-based organizations and it’s growing.
In 2017, the Institute was awarded $2 million by Canadian government (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) to build what they’ve defined as an ImprovLab; “a 300-seat research and performance space, with top-of-the-line AV equipment to document workshops and research studies, and telematic technology to enable live performances with participants in other parts of the world.”
For those familiar with campus, it will be centrally located in the courtyard of the MacKinnon Building and ground will break in Spring 2019.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES IICSI DO?
The short answer: lots. Here are a few projects that paint a wide picture of what IICSI is up to:
Play Who You Are: For over a decade, IICSI has partnered with KidsAbility Centre for Child Development to bring professional improvising musicians into collaboration with children and youth with varying developmental and physical needs. The results of this rich community-engaged, practice-based project have been a series of improvisational workshops and performances that have offered all participants – from new musicians to the very experienced; from music aficionados and scholars to first-time listeners – revelations about the links between music and community-making, improvisation and individual/community well-being, sound and self-expression. After a series of workshops, the youth usually perform during the Guelph Jazz Festival. Check videos documenting Play Who You Are here.
Acting Out! But in a Good Way: This arts-based health research project taking place in First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, examines the use of improvised arts projects in communities to prevent suicides by helping youth to examine the decisions they make that affect their health, build a strong sense of identity, and find their voices leading to improved health and wellbeing. The youth engage with a number of improvised art practices including Forum Theatre, improvised theatre games, art, filmmaking, and storytelling. Research has shown that participation in the arts function as health interventions, increasing wellbeing and leading to improved health. Art projects are designed collaboratively following Indigenous research and art methodologies, many of which seem to engage with qualities of improvisational collaboration, including active listening, collaborative decision-making and information sharing, real-time decision-making, risk, and the constant adaptation and response to failure and mistake. More on Acting Out! But in a Good Way here.
Adaptive Use Musical Instruments: For several years, members of the IICSI research team at institutions across Canada and the United States have been engaged in collaborative research developing Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) for the Physically Challenged. AUMI, developed under the leadership of the late Pauline Oliveros, uses camera-tracking technology to create a non-invasive interface between users with extremely limited voluntary movement and a computer synthesizer. Users, often non-verbal, are able to improvise with other musicians, accessing creative communication previously unavailable to them. Learn more here .
As an advocate for the transformative power of improvisation ourselves, The Making-Box team has been long craving to partner with the IICSI and our dreams came true at The Derry Dialogues; an annual conversation made possible by the vision and support of Margaret and Douglas Derry to promote the values of interdisciplinary approaches to the big issues of our time. The event titled, “Improvisation As Social Change” featured talks from IICSI professors, Canadian comedy icon Mary Walsh (This Hour Has 22-Minutes) and was capped with a performance by The Making-Box.
In addition, to making our Mom’s very proud, we caught wind of some exciting news. IICSI has unveiled a new Master’s and PhD program in Critical Studies in Improvisation, making the University of Guelph the first in the world to offer such a program.
It’s easy to assume Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal to be Canada’s improv hotbeds. But with a forthcoming ImprovLab, a University with the first ever improv-centered Masters/PhD program, a research institute, a dedicate improv theatre and training centre, Guelph stands to be Canada’s (if not the world’s) thought leader on applied improvisation.
Want more? Check out IICSI The Making-Box’s second collaboration in Thinking Spaces on February 7th, 2019.