In her Practice Manual for the Six Viewpoints, Mary Overlie describes the practice of Doing the Unnecessary as “a movement exploration that should be extended to breaking logic of all kinds…performers are permitted to be obstructive, non-cooperative, or minimally cooperative.”


My favorite memory of Mary providing an example of the Unnecessary was at the dinner table in Basin, Montana. We had cooked up some steak and asparagus and potatoes and onions. The sun was setting behind the Anaconda Mountains, blue ascending into white then orange then pink then fuscia then fading into grey bunny tail clouds. She was talking about performance as a direct stimulant of the audience’s brain patterns and why Doing the Unnecessary was one of her favorite improvisation structures. Suddenly her fork stabbed a napkin and threw the paper cloth over her shoulder. Next was her spoon landing on my steak and the fork was back up, scratching her cheekbone. Reality had in an instant slid over on its the side, bent, and what was unconsciously accepted as normal dining behavior became both hyper-conscious and dislodged.  Sounds came out of our mouths that were not language, and the infinite possibilities of action cleansed the sticky KNOWN. Noses landed in water glasses and a few of someone’s toes started tugging on the tablecloth. Zany. Disruptive. Potentially destructive. Joyous. Confusing. And absolutely hilarious.


For the purposes of this article, I will perform three short improvisations of the Unnecesary. Each will have a task that must be completed. My goal is to be alert and vigilantly conscious of the ever-persuasive necessary.

1. Reading a book

Reading the Unnecessary 

2. Folding a foldable chair

An Unnecessary Folding Chair

3. Drinking Water

The Unnecessary Cup

It doesn’t take much of the Unnecessary to disrupt a known pattern, habit, or expectation. You don’t have to run around in a big circle screaming (although you could) to bring to light the narrow variations of behavior we often exhibit and the many implicated cultural agreements. In fact, much of my exploration here was probably over the top. During this process, I immediately thought of my father, a shy but unbelievably funny person whose humor was powered by the unnecessary. As a child I was often embarrassed by his secret dissent against the limits of the acceptable. A jowel shake while his conversation partner wasn’t looking or an odd hop-step interrupting his jaunt down the suburb streets was enough. Little did I know, I was getting a peek into his Original Anarchist (the last conceptual frame of the Bridge in the Six Viewpoints.)

“This work is what connects the artist to the concept of The Original Anarchist. The Unnecessary produces independence and vital closeness to the essence of life we call anima. Many aspects of making art are actually very hard, sometimes even grim, work: searching out a subject, choosing the right logic, caring for the details, the physical labor of production. And while these are labors of love they are labors nonetheless. Doing the Unnecessary is a totally joyous holiday for the artist. Yet while on vacation it also trains the mind to be incredibly alert, because if we are not vigilant, we will automatically return to the necessary. We have labored so long in our lives to be efficient, coordinated, and practical. Throwing this habitual necessary efficiency overboard lands us in a world of invention that is infinite.”

                                          --Mary Overlie, The Six Viewpoints Practice Manual

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