What is Improbable’s Open Space?  Learn more here.

This semester, NYU Skirball’s spring season has asked us to think about what live performance means to us now, in the wake of our ongoing global pandemic(s) and the lingering effects on our ability to gather together, to make and share art – from revisiting the classics with the Classical Theatre of Harlem, to reinventing the canon with Philip Glass and Improbable. How have the last 3 years changed our collective understandings of what it means to make, see and study art and performance? How have our experiences with isolation and virtual connection affected our experiences of liveness and shared spaces? How do we mark and mourn our losses while trying to regain as much as we can of what was lost? What parts of our current return to “normalcy” would better be left in the past? & where do we want to go from here? 

You are invited to participate in an Open Space workshop, held by Phelim McDermott – as part of Improbable’s residence at NYU Skirball – to consider these questions with other members of NYU Skirball’s wider community.

The immediate effects of the indefinite “pause” on live performance in New York in March 2020 were obvious, but we’re still making sense of the broader effects of these precarious years. Paradoxically, arts professionals were not deemed “essential workers” in New York and yet we relied on art and culture as a lifeline through isolating months, and looked to artists to make sense of our collective grief and loss, our restlessness and rage, our longings for beauty, meaning, connection, intimacy, justice. This workshop is an opportunity to work through some of the unresolved questions of art as essential work, and the role of art in social life. Students’ courses of studies were disrupted; teachers tried to make sense of an altered reality; artists grappled with new mediums and economies; audiences found ways to connect across great distances; we all questioned what the future would look like. Now that we are living into that future, how do we start to answer some of these questions, and meaningfully address the radical restructurings of our fields? What role does the university play in these conversations, as both setting and catalyst? What has changed? What hasn’t changed? What can we change?

We invite you to come and spend the afternoon with us in the NYU Skirball lobby on Tuesday, April 4. Students and faculty from all over NYC, arts professionals, artists, community members, and audiences – all are welcome to join the conversation. Invite your friends, colleagues, collaborators, strangers, artists, neighbors, and let’s talk.

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Open Space

Open Space Technology (OST) is a process that enables collaborative problem solving, improved communications and better networking. It can work for as few as 5 people, and as many as 500. Open Space Technology was created by an Episcopal priest and civil rights campaigner called Harrison Owen in the 1980s. Over the last 30+ years, OST has been used across the world in an incredible range of contexts: to design aeroplane doors, resolve land disputes, address economic, environmental, social, political and artistic issues of every kind.

It’s a process that’s been at the heart of Improbable’s work since Phelim read Harrison’s book Open Space Technology in the early 2000s. Improbable now uses Open Space in almost every area of their work and it’s a key part of their creative methodology within the rehearsal room.


Improbable occupies a vital space in the landscape of UK theatre. At the heart of their artistic practice is improvisation. Whether in performance, rehearsal or development, the practice and philosophy of improvisation is at the core of their creative process —even when they’re working on classic plays or operas.

Phelim McDermott

Phelim McDermott is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Improbable. He has directed renowned productions around the globe (Shockheaded Peter, Beauty and the Beast), most recently the World Premiere of The Hours at the Metropolitan Opera, and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s newest musical extravaganza, My Neighbour Totoro.

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6.Tao of Glass_Phelim McDermott_MIF2019 (c) Tristram Kenton
Phelim McDermott
excerpt from "Station Eleven"
Excerpt from "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel
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