Design Cybernetics Enacted: The RSVP Cycles and Devised Theatre

  • Tom ScholteEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


In the 1960s, environmental designer, Lawrence Halprin, in collaboration with his wife Ann, choreographer and artistic director of the San Francisco Dance Workshop, engaged in an examination of group creative processes in search of a theory outlining their main features. He formalized his findings in the 1968 book, The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment describing a recursive schema of iteration and evaluation bearing striking resemblances to the conversational conception of second-order cybernetics. Devised Theatre is one of the fields that has been most directly influenced by, and most vividly reflects, the work of the Halprins and will serve as the “research site” for this chapter. Highlighting some prevalent features of contemporary Devised Theatre practice through examples drawn from some of the field’s most influential artists, our trip around the cycle will reveal the ways in which the RSVP Cycles reinforce, in a robustly enacted fashion, Ranulph Glanville’s cybernetic conception of design in which lack of control, trans-computable complexity, and under-specification of the problems investigated all become virtues that propel us on a conversational forward search in which we must “act in order to understand” while bound by a deep ethical commitment to the autonomy of others.


Performance Theater Collective creation Conversation Constraints 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Theatre and FilmUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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