The Viewpoints System – An Introduction

I’ve expanded and re-posted this article from its original appearance in the Improv Illusionist Newsletter. Subscribe to get a new “big idea” for your improv every month.

In the past year, I’ve heard the Viewpoints system mentioned several times in various improv podcast interviews. So I picked up The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart & Tina Landau, and here are a few of my takeaways. (There’s also my quick review on the Books page.)

What is the Viewpoints system?

At the risk of simplifying, Viewpoints is a language to describe how movement and patterns can produce interesting effects on stage. This shorthand makes it easier for actors and directors to talk about what “works” in staging a performance.

Some of these elements are Tempo, Duration, Repetition, Gesture, and Spatial Relationship. (Bogart & Landau list 9 Physical Viewpoints in all. There are also Vocal Viewpoints that explore similar elements for sound and dialogue.)

Will it work for improv, though?

In rehearsing a theatre piece, performers explore Viewpoints through improvisation to develop ideas for staging. This seems loosely similar to the way The Second City creates sketch material through repeated improv.

One problem stands out, however: Bogart & Landau (on p.134) admit they have never done a production consisting entirely of Open and UNPLANNED Viewpoints. Meaning they’re not actual improvisers in the performance sense.

So how does the Viewpoints system actually help in spontaneous performance? Are the coaches who teach “Viewpoints for Improv” training legitimate?

The book doesn’t address this, except to say Viewpoints does train situational awareness and a sense of aliveness to repeated performance of the same show. These are important ideas for performance improv, and a lot of the philosophy around Viewpoints is similar.

Using the Viewpoints system in your scenes

For true improv, I’d say that understanding the Viewpoints gives you ideas for manipulating a scene. Gesture, for example, is a focus on moving parts of the body to show behaviour or expression, which sounds a lot like Object Work. Or you could use Architecture to change the stage picture, such as incorporating the audience or different parts of the theatre.

Viewpoints could also help you review scenes and see what moves really made them tick.

Other than learning the vocabulary, it will be hard for a solo improviser to put The Viewpoints Book into practice. The techniques need group practice and exploration to really grasp. But the book might help you decide to explore a Viewpoints class, especially with an instructor who specializes in applying the techniques to improv.

Where can I learn more?

For more about Viewpoints, I recommend these articles from around the web:

What’s your opinion of the Viewpoints system? Do you think about them in performance? Have you taken a class? Leave a comment below and share your experience!

Image by guruxox from depositphotos

David Raitt - Headshot

Hi, I'm David Raitt. I've been performing and teaching improv and sketch comedy for over 25 years.
MY MISSION: To help improvisers everywhere (re-)learn the power of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance.

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