Balancing Acts: Aesthetics of Vulnerability in British Contemporary Improvisational Theatre

Chloé Arros-Steen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is an exploration of contemporary British improvisational theatre,
as it began developing in the 1950s until the present time, using the notion of
vulnerability as research question. It discusses the balancing act performed by
improvisers, navigating both the vulnerability intrinsic to their art and the image of
vulnerability they intentionally convey. Its aim is to show the central place of
vulnerability as an emotional state in the creative process of improvisational theatre
and the expert strategies that improvisers develop to overcome it. Stemming from
Brené Brown’s notion of vulnerability as a positive creative force, it also studies the
unique ways in which improvisers can perform vulnerability, use it as a strategy in
order to achieve virtuosity and make it part of the aesthetics of the form.
In conjunction with theatre studies literature, it relies on the methodologies of
neuroaesthetics and aesthetics as defined by Denis Dutton, in order to examine in
depth the improvisation creative process and complement qualitative material. Field
research in the form of interviews with both improvisers and improvisational theatre
spectators was conducted between 2013 and 2018 in order to gather original material
to begin a dialogue with, complement and challenge the existing literature on
improvisational theatre. This thesis updates our knowledge of the form and provides
an original, in depth insight into the creative process in performing arts. The key
finding of this work is a new understanding of the expert ways of doing of
improvisers which legitimises them as artists in their own rights and shows
improvisational theatre to be an artform and not just a tool. As such, it is a manifesto
for contemporary British improvisational theatre.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • McCaw, Dick, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • improvisation
  • improvisational theatre
  • theatre
  • neuroaesthetics
  • aesthetics
  • vulnerability
  • creativity
  • british
  • contemporary
  • neuroscience
  • biology
  • courage
  • virtuosity
  • artistry
  • failure

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