Improv: Not just for the stage?

Poster advertising the Science & Art Cabaret event.

Scientists and artists will talk about how improvisation influences their work — or not — at Buffalo’s next Science & Art Cabaret

Release Date: November 17, 2015

How do spur-of-the-moment decisions influence visual art or shape science?

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Say the word “improv,” and images of the theater flutter to the top of the mind.

But what role does improvisation play in other fields? How do spur-of-the-moment decisions influence visual art or shape science?

These are the types of questions that will be at the heart of “Improvisation,” Buffalo’s next Science & Art Cabaret.

The event, free and open to the public, will take place Thursday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. at The Ninth Ward @ Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. It will feature an eclectic cast of artists and academics who will give informal talks and presentations on themes that range from “chemical imagination” to “instrument design.” There will be a cash bar.

The line-up:

  • Artist and musician Brian Murchison and artist Kyle Butler, presenting on “dialogue and shared experience”;
  • ComedySportz Improv, presenting an “intro to principles and applications of improv comedy”;
  • Eva Zurek, University at Buffalo associate professor of chemistry, presenting on “chemical imagination”;
  • Tomas Henriques, associate professor of music at SUNY Buffalo State, presenting on “instrument design”; and
  • Steve Baczkowski, multi-wind instrumentalist, presenting on “improvised music.”

Quirky, intellectual and fun, the cabaret is an ongoing collaborative program between Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, UB and the Buffalo Museum of Science. Individual “cabarets” are held several times a year, with each bringing together an unusual mishmash of speakers from divergent fields to talk about a common theme.

The event series is supported by the Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

“Improvisation” is a provocative theme, with many angles to discuss. Take, for instance, the varying viewpoints on improv in — or versus — science.

“The scientific method is a solid procedure for the discovery of new science ideas, but when the right circumstances are not available, we see improv in the laboratory as well,” says cabaret co-founder Douglas Borzynski, a facilitator of learning at the Buffalo Museum of Science. “Equipment is re-purposed or used in ways it was not designed for, substitutions of materials and development of new protocols are always changing and scientists are left adapting.

“Scientists may start with a, ‘If I do this, then this will happen,’ hypothesis, but it is still a combination of hard work, insight and a little improvisation that lead to new discoveries.”

Cabaret co-founder Will Kinney, UB professor of physics, offers a counterpoint: “The scientific method, at heart, is pretty much the opposite of ‘improvisation,’ at least as we usually mean the word,” Kinney says. “Scientists must be creative and inventive, yes, but science, done right, is systematic, not extemporaneous.

“While an experimental scientist may MacGyver a clever machine to make a measurement, that is not the same as the science itself being extemporaneous. One of the hardest things to learn about being a scientist is learning to resist the very human urge to improvise, to extemporize, to make it up as you go along, because that urge is the enemy of objective inquiry.”

The eloquent, thought-provoking tone of Kinney and Borzynski’s commentary is typical of the type of conversation that takes place on cabaret night.

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