Transformative Approaches Project
Envisioning conferencing: Insights from drama and
Transformative Approaches Project |
This note continues the exercise of envisioning the cognitive
contributions of the arts to conferencing in the Year 2490.
(a) Beyond scripted conferences: There is a true story of the
visit of the President of one country to another not so long ago. Each
had his principal public speech carefully crafted by a speech writer to
appropriately stress the policy issues in question from his position. They
delivered their speeches to each other before a large audience and all
were content. Unknowingly they had used the services of the same speech
There are many tales of conference conclusions having been prepared,
before the gathering, in "draft" form for approval on the occasion.
Together with the above tale, this suggests that all policy gatherings
are to some extent scripted, possibly during the course of preliminary
meetings. A "dry run" is common for critical business meetings.
Academic meetings may be almost totally scripted, given that papers may
have to be submitted months in advance to determine whether they can be
accepted in the programme and "read" at the meeting. Whatever
the degree of pre-scripting, some time is usually given for "free
discussion" or "questions from the floor" -- this may also
be scripted by the use of appropriate "plants".
(b) Policy dramatics: In that future era they approached these
matters as dramatic opportunities. A policy gathering was also designed
and assessed by the criteria of the dramatic arts. As such this view of
a gathering is not too strange to us. We talk of the "main players"
and are sensitive to "dramatic moments". The media are especially
sensitive to such aspects, to the point of placing pressure on organizers
to structure the event so that there are such moments. Events are "staged"
because of the media opportunities they offer. The key speakers prepare
themselves accordingly -- even to the point of being appropriately dressed,
if not made-up and bewigged.
(c) Casting factional representation: But our efforts in this
direction make rather uninteresting drama, except for the participants.
In the future the challenge was to ensure that the different policy factions
were represented by a cast of characters capable of giving adequate dramatic
emphasis to the complex issues that needed to be aired, interrelated and
resolved. Even today the organizers of conferences are sensitive to the
question of "casting" -- who can most appropriately represent
a particular perspective. But our descendants made this into a high art.
Thus if some hard decision had to be made, the tragic dimensions were appropriately
drawn out so that all were aware of what opportunities had to be sacrificed
and the suffering that would cause. If there were ridiculous inconsistencies
under discussion, their potential as comedy was fully explored (as it is
today, outside the gathering, by cartoonists and political comedians).
(d) Improvisation and psychodrama: But the special merit of their
dramatic approach was that they had skilled techniques for blending scripting
and improvisation. In contrast with our programmed gatherings, the outcome
was not necessarily predetermined. The inherent logic of the drama as it
unfolded through the unscripted interventions of the participants could
move the drama to some unsuspected conclusion. In our time we understand
this best in psychodrama and indeed their gatherings were to a high degree
sophisticated psychodramas in which participants took the role of factions
or constituencies rather than personalities.
(e) Orchestrating dramatic moments to "make a point":
The dramatic dimension to their gatherings provided ways of giving form
to otherwise "bloodless" debates in which policy implications
could take only a purely abstract form. Faced with a complex of challenges
and opportunities (which could only be represented on an essentially incomprehensible
complex mathematical "surface"), the drama articulated the tensions
between values such as joy and despair associated with different policy
dimensions, however thegathering finally resolved them. "Points"
were made through dramatic moments (as at the origin of the phrase, "to
make a point", in the century theatre). In our day policy-makers do
not weep at the suffering caused by the decisions they may be forced to
make. In that era, such dramatizations provided every justification for
weeping when appropriate. The emotional implications of policies were thus
fully explored during the policy-making process.
(a) Embodiment of aspirations in dance: In the closing years
of the 20th century much is made of the of the increasing proportion of
young people in the world, despite the reverse situation in western countries.
Much is also made of rising levels of functional illiteracy -- even in
western countries. And it is clear that the young in general have relatively
little interest in the organization of society that is being thrust on
them by their elders. Although they are deeply concerned by some of the
issues, it is fair to say that a high proportion of young people have their
core aspirations articulated through music and its embodiment in dance.
In a world of many languages, it is one of the few that is shared worldwide.
One of the shocking features of our era, to those of the future, was
that those involved in policy-making had lost the art of dancing. Formal
dances, where they are held, have atrophied into a formal shuffle of little
significance. Disco dancing on the occasion of any gathering is provided
solely as a means of relaxing and cultivating relationships. Complex dances
from our cultural heritage are executed as entertainment with little insight
into their significance.
(b) Exploration of patterns of dualities: Our descendants developed
the use of dance during such gatherings into a way of exploring the pattern
of dualities by which our policy debates are variously polarized beyond
any logical reconciliation. Such dualities and factional differences could
be encoded in music as described earlier. But dance offered the possibility
of acting out those tensions so that they acquired a felt reality -- and
the sequence of the dance allowed particular polarities to be transcended
in the pattern of the dance.
Such dances bore some resemblance to ceremonial dances, and masked dances,
of earlier times and cultures. They also borrowed heavily from insights
into self-organizing systems. Many formal patterns existed, but the dance
itself, through choices made by participants, might stabilize temporarily
in one, before switching into another, or through a cycle of patterns.
(c) Interfacing the personal and the collective: Dances of this
kind allowed participants to explore the boundary between their personal
preferences, those of others, and the organization of the whole. They offered
insights into patterns of organization in which sacrifices made to others
under certain conditions, could be compensated by benefits under other
conditions. They illustrated the art of "winning" and "losing".
People were able to feel out where they could take initiative, leading
some part of the dance, and where they could more appropriately respond
to the initiatives of others.
(d) Giving form to larger patterns: Of most importance, such
dances gave felt reality to complex patterns which could be used to interweave
polarizing tendencies in social organization. They provided a means of
understanding the "temporal logic" of combining opposing (factional)
policies as phases in policy cycles -- themselves interwoven in more complex
patterns (reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic patterns). In effect,
the whirl of the dance kept opposing elements within the larger pattern.
This creative use of time was their key to the use of more appropriate
and sustainable styles of organization. We can hear a faint echo of this
insight in the peasant farmer's traditional use of crop rotation to sustain
the productivity of his fields and in our current approaches to traffic
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential