Brenda Bakker Harger
Associate Teaching Professor for Carnegie Mellon University
Brenda Bakker Harger is a theatre director (MFA, Carnegie Mellon University), improviser, and Associate Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center where she teaches improvisational acting and leads diverse interdisciplinary projects. The projects she advises encompass a variety of technologies (VR, AR, location based, etc), but her point of view will always be; there is no amount of technology that can fix a bad idea. Improv provides the tools that generates those ideas, the structure to relate narrative and experience, and the paradigm for smooth collaboration.
Bakker Harger also teaches for the Carnegie Bosch Institute in CMU’s Tepper School where over three weeks, international business executives address leadership, marketing and communication practices through improvisational storytelling; and in Human Computer Interaction at CMU for improv as applied to design. She has conducted workshops nationally and internationally on improv, innovation, narrative and design.
As an improviser, Brenda has performed with Pittsburgh Theatresports and SAK Theatre, and she is also director of a unique award winning Theatre Company at Carnegie Mellon, which uses interactive theatre to address controversial issues in the workplace. Bakker Harger’s directing has focused primarily on new works, including directing and developing plays as technologically based Interactive experiences.
Improvisational Acting: The paradigm for design
Improvisational acting is a method which brings participants to a common starting place enabling them to put aside egos and create together. Most famously known as a comedy performance vehicle, improvisational acting techniques are also useful in other applications. Animators can benefit from character movement and behavior exercises, producers from effective team communication and idea generation. My emphasis in this participatory talk will be on the relationship between improvisation and interactive design, how that relationship can be solidified, both as a paradigm/new heuristic, and as a set of practical tools that directly affect varying elements of game design and development. These include storytelling, story structure, character development, movement, team building, listening, focus, and basic acting. While time will limit the full extent of this exploration, the introduction of the paradigm shift will encourage participants to seek out continued opportunities to more fully explore this connection.
Improvisational acting is ultimately useful to anyone in any create field, or anyone who wishes to develop creative and leadership skills. However, it is especially applicable for the Game community. Game Developers often come to the industry from many non-traditional avenues; and as games become more and more like virtual worlds, skills taught in traditional art forms – film, television, theater and especially improvisational theatre, have more and more application in the day-to-day workplace. Game developers can make themselves familiar with these techniques so the product can be made better and they can remain competitive. Extending the paradigm of creation beyond that of games can only enhance the gameplay experiences. Improvisational theatre is the closest to games as any existing artform, primarily because the form itself revolves around games and challenges, and it is all performed/explored in real time. The very tools actors learn to create from nothing in real time are applicable not only from a brainstorming/thought process phase, but also can inform and challenge AI. Concepts such as character status can be interpreted creatively, but when they are looked at as a tool, they are quantifiable and easily converted into AI terms. The fact that improvisation in its very form is presented in real time makes the parallel to game environments all the more obvious and useful. Currently, while there is a nod towards improvisation in terms of animating, and basic team bonding, the form has not been seriously considered in application to other aspects of game design and development. One way to do this is to understand the processes that theatre artists have known for years in building characters, creating stories, and always working in ensemble. The best way to learn these processes is by doing, so, the audience will be encouraged/expected to participate in the exercises. For any theatrical experience to succeed, the ensemble must understand and be able to communicate the common goal. This participatory talk will show how that is done through participatory exercises and example.