Connecting Stage Acting, Role-Playing, and Improvisation

One of the most common questions that people ask with regard to the roleplaying phenomenon is “How is role-playing like theatre acting?” Indeed, many role-players use the corollary of improvisational theatre in order to explain the concept to outsiders. My goal is to investigate this correlation in depth, as the two psychological and performative states are clearly similar, if not identical. To explore this topic, I compare theories and thick descriptions from both role-players and actors. This essay focuses on connecting Keith Johnstone’s Impro connecting his experiments with mask work and other forms of improv with role-playing theory concepts such as immersion, dual consciousness, bleed, alibi, and possession. My analysis looks at how character immersion is conceived by role-playing theorists, and then turns to discussion of dissociation and the theory of mind, both of which may illuminate the phenomenon of character enactment. The goal of this work is to bridge the gap between these performative activities, which have emerged as Western cultural forms in isolation from one another.

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