By James King
For years, Joya Cory has heard from her students and family that she should write. As a
teacher of an innovative form of improvisational theater and dance called Full Spectrum
Improvisation, she had written essays and exercises about her craft for various
publications so her son, an author himself, told her to save her writings.
“Keep writing these essays and save them; soon you’ll have a book,” he said.
So she did. Over the past year, Cory compiled her previous writings and added
original content for a new book, titled “Two Worlds at the Same Time: Full
Spectrum Improvisation for the Theatre and Life.”
Cory’s work and book have been influenced by a lifetime of dance, performance
art and teaching. She was born on Long Island, New York and started dancing at a
very young age. She was taking ballet lessons by the age of four and continued
to dance through her teenage years and into adulthood. However, she grew to feel
that ballet was too limiting for what she wanted to do.
Coming of age in the ’60s, Cory was influenced by contemporary culture and
felt the need to express herself through dance. She moved into an apartment in
the Haight Ashbury and living there changed her performance art.
“It was great, it was fun, but it was a very dramatic time socially and that was
influential in terms of my work,” Cory said.
Cory started to work with Anna Halprin, whom she describes as a “modern
dance innovator.” Halprin challenged Cory to move away from the strict form
of ballet and into a more free-form style of dance and movement.
“It was the complete opposite of ballet,” Cory said.
At the time, Cory started to explore other forms of performance art. She acted
and worked with experimental and progressive improvisational groups throughout
the Bay Area. Her experience with dance in both the traditional and modern
forms, along with improvisation and acting, led her to develop Full Spectrum
Improvisation, a form of improvisational theater.
Over the past 45 years, Cory has been leading classes and hosting workshops on
Full Spectrum Improvisation for people of all backgrounds. She described it as different
from the common perception of improv theater. Typically, improv is thought
to be a form of comedy. But, Full Spectrum Improvisation is different in
that it incorporates all human emotions, rather than just joy, happiness and laughter.
However, humor is also a part of Cory’s brand of improv. She explained that sadness,
anger, happiness and any other feelings are a significant part of the practice of Full
“By its nature, it’s therapeutic. Self expression is therapeutic,” she said. “My
work has been influenced by drama therapy.” Drama therapy is a type of psychotherapy
that allows people to act out their thoughts and emotions for therapeutic purposes. She
has used her work and classes to help people with various issues, including anxiety
related to public speaking and drug and alcohol addiction.
“It’s a lot about release,” she said. Cory said her work as a teacher not
only helped her students, but was helpful for her emotionally, as well.
Her book, “Two Worlds at the Same Time: Full Spectrum Improvisation for
the Theatre and Life,” is the culmination of a career as a teacher and performer of
The book contains some personal history, but it is also a compilation of exercises,
tips and explanations about her craft. The goal of the book is to give people an insight
and lesson into Full Spectrum Improvisation.
As she ages, Cory has been thinking about her legacy. She explained that her
performances are finite and do not live on in perpetuity. Unlike physical pieces
of art, her work occurs at a specific time and place and memories of the event are
left to the people in attendance.
“I want this book to be something concrete for me to leave behind,” she said.
For more information about Joya Cory, her classes or book: “Two Worlds
at the Same Time: Ful l Spectrum Improvisation for the Theatre and Life,”
go to the website at http://www.joyacory.com.