Around the globe, people are sweeping aside old notions of how we learn and develop, how to educate and to help, and what it is to build community — by developing new practices based in performance. With 30 years of experience in implementing, researching and teaching performance-based psychology, education, health care, youth development, therapy, and organizational and community development, Lois Holzman is a leader of this growing performance movement. Along with Fred Newman, she is developing, in both theory and practice, a new psychology that understands our ability to perform — to pretend, to play, to improvise, to be who we are and other than who we are — as key to our emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being. As an advisor to numerous organizations that utilize this new psychology, she is advancing the use and understanding of performance as the engine of human development at any age and social circumstance.
And as organizer of the 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008 Performing the World conferences, Holzman is helping to build an international cross-disciplinary community of practitioners and scholars who take a performance approach in addressing educational, mental health, health and social policy issues.
To Holzman, performance is more than a metaphor. It is a methodology for living. Seizing on Lev Vygotsky’s discovery that young children learn and develop because they are supported to do what is beyond them — to play at being who they are becoming or, as Vygotsky says, to “perform a head taller” — she and her colleagues practice a method of relating to all people, no matter their age, as performers who create the millions of scenes (scripted and improvised) of their lives.
Holzman, Newman and their clients and students have discovered how people, when organized as an ensemble, can transform how they relate, understand and feel. Performance, in this creative, activistic sense, is how we can go beyond ourselves to create new experiences, new skills, new intellectual capacities, new relationships, new interests, new emotions, new hopes, new goals, new forms of community — in short, a new culture.
Nearly all of Holzman’s writings touch on performance and its role in human development. She writes not only of practice but also of how different theoretical perspectives, such as postmodernism, cultural-historical activity theory and critical psychology, can be greatly enriched by a performance approach. In addition, she has initiated research on performance projects in youth development, teaching and teacher training, and the social development of elementary and middle school children.