Taboos in improvisation theatre mean that games, game ideas, specifications or behaviours are deliberately avoided or ignored for certain reasons. These taboos can affect the entire group or only individual players.

Thematic taboos

If, for example, certain "slippery" suggestions come from the audience - see Below the belt - then the implementation may be difficult, especially for less experienced players, but even if children are in the audience, a "dirty" proposal in a beer-savvy public celebration such as "anal sex" may not necessarily serve the welfare of the children's soul. It can also be difficult to come up with ideas for games that might hurt the feelings of certain groups of spectators, such as "blasphemous" scenes, or jokes at the expense of handicapped people (see also Tick), sick or sexual minorities.

However, certain audiences may be much more tolerant and humorous in their own affairs than (sometimes overprotective) outsiders often expect or demand. It may well be that, for example, when an event is staged by wheelchair users,"cheerful" scenes about wheelchair driving and problems of people with spinal paralysis are tolerated, perhaps even desired.

Certain game ideas or suggestions with a political or historical background may also be inhuman or simply distasteful - such as a "cheerful" scene in the extermination camp or a scene in the burning World Trade Center. Here either the scene can be avoided or played by professionals and experienced players with a lot of "tact" (see in the film Charly Chaplin:"Der gro├če Diktator" and Ernst Lubitsch "Sein oder Nichtein").

It goes without saying that there can be certain situational taboos. For example, Monty Python's playful idea of a Jesus singing happily on the cross may inspire followers of Python, but she may not be so well received at a congress of Bible-faithful Christians. A scene with the occupation suggestion "undertaker" could also spoil the joy of a birthday appearance for a very old person.

Since there are also serious scenes in improvised theatre, however, the topic-related taboos are more related to the comedic scenes.

As a group, you should be aware of the perpetual and situational taboos that exist!

Dramaturgical Taboos

There are certain elements of action that (allegedly) are strictly "forbidden" on stage because they are dramatically unproductive or harmful. Classical example (from Keith Johnstone) is said to be vomiting.

Group Dynamic Taboos

There can be certain clarified or unexplained group-dynamic taboos, i. e. Taboos that affect the interaction, the interpersonal relationships within the group or between some players. Kissing is an example. Conflicts or antipathies can also lead to a playful taboo, especially if they are unresolved and unspoken. In particular, it is important to remember that a person cannot or does not want to play with another person or avoids close physical contact with the person in question when playing.

Personal taboos

It is possible that you may not like or be able to play certain scenes, because they might lead to a (over-)strong personal dismay. For example, a traumatic childhood event, a personal difficult situation from a distant or recent past (e. g. bereavement, mobbing). In addition to personal affectedness, certain highly personal attitudes and attitudes can also be decisive, which go beyond what is clear as taboo in a group-related sense (see the subject-related taboos in this respect). Here we have to think of attitudes towards life, religious or political attitudes. Examples: A player who is a hunter rejects scenes in which hunters are portrayed as animal torturers or "murderers". A woman's shelter employee does not want to play in a scene where she is beaten by a man. An atheist player does not sing gospel songs.

Acceptance of the taboos

The question is whether and to what extent taboos should be considered, edited, integrated into the game, or whether they should be ignored in the end...

last update: 2017-09-13
by Guido Boyke

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