While I was acting in college, a director once told me, “what a playwright calls a work, actors call a play.” His point was that it was our job to explore the potential of the script by making unique choices and “playing” within our roles. While I can’t seem to find this quote anywhere on the internet, and have heard many playwrights refer to their works as “plays,” the quote has still stuck with me for years. Not only is it a fun expression, it highlights the value of leveraging different working styles to achieve great results.
Recently, I’ve learned about convergent and divergent thinking in relation to problem-solving. I think that this dichotomy is very similar to the idea behind work and play. At it’s core, convergent thinking is the process of bringing together many ideas to form one solution (ideally the best possible solution). In a way, it’s similar to the work of a playwright. When they sit down to write a script, a playwright may be daunted by the blank page; the possibilities are endless, so deciding what to write about is quite the undertaking. However, they sort through all the possible settings, characters, and lines of dialogue and put pen to paper. They take a seemingly limitless world and add limits to it. They define rules to the way people behave, how they interact, and what types of things they say. By the end of the process, the playwright has defined clear confines to the piece—what is on the paper is final, the lines of dialogue must be spoken, and the established rules must be followed.
Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of generating a multitude of possible solutions to a problem. Certain acting methods encourage a divergent approach- exploring every possible way to say each line or move through the space. If the script defines a world in which the characters operate, the actor’s job is to find the edge of that world so they can see the full potential of the piece. How far can they push the boundary before they lose sense of the show’s reality? While the playwright and actor must both utilize some combination of divergent and convergent thinking to accomplish their goals, it’s the process of alternating between the two that adds dimension and creates something wonderful.
Convergent and divergent thinking go hand-in-hand and are cornerstones to innovation. After converging to define a problem or set a goal, it’s important to diverge and imagine what could be possible within the given parameters. It’s important to work and play.