Incorporating interruption

What’s the difference between a theatre production company and an impro group? What’s the difference between a jazz musician and an orchestra? The answer lies in their interpretation of interruption.

The theatre production company and the orchestra see interruptions as distractions, as something that actively detracts from the quality of their performance. Thus, at no point during an orchestral performance do you engage with the conductor. And at no point during a play do you converse with the lead. You don’t go along expecting to do it, and neither the orchestra nor the theatre production company perform with that as a possibility in their mind.

But go to see an impro group perform and they encourage you to interact. They welcome and want your input. It’s similar to a certain extent with a jazz musician. You may not converse with him or her using words, but you can be damn sure they’re reading your response to their music and adapting accordingly. Both these entities make your interaction—I doubt they’d call it interruption—a part of the performance. They fold your contributions into the very essence of the show.

It’s a fundamental difference of perception—one sees audience input as disruption, the other sees it as an opportunity.

Thinking about this, I can’t help but realise that we build systems, routines and processes on the orchestral or theatre production framework. We create these structures to run without interruption; we leave no slack in the system for the unexpected interaction with an unforeseen event or character. But life is not a performance and something is always interrupting, throwing us off, messing up the perfectly arranged script we’re trying to act out.

Now, rather than realising this and trying to eliminate distraction, wouldn’t it be better to build systems, routines and processes in a style similar to the impro group or jazz musician? In a way that, at the bare minimum, attempts to incorporate interruption and the unexpected rather than trying to outlaw it?