What is the Mirror Effect?

Adapted from Excepts From ‘THEATRICS OF SEAM’ by David Boje and Grace Ann Rosile

From article in Journal of Organizational Change Management’s Special Issue on SEAM 2003 [Vol. 16 (1): 21-32] guest edited by Henri Savall – Click Here for on line Word version.


We are theatre therapists to organizations. Socio-Economic Approach to Management (SEAM) assumes organization is theatre. It does not approach theatre as a metaphor.  There are Four consulting acts (or phases) of organization theatre consulting:

Act 1: Listening and Diagnosis - Like the "Mime Clown," the consultant listens, observes, and imitates the script of the organization. Rather, the purpose of the diagnosis stage of this intervention is to research the “metascript[1] of the organization, and to use qualitative narrative research methods (Boje, 2001a) to reproduce samples of the organistic metascript in a field-notebook, for feedback to clients in the “Mirror Effect” (Act II). Here are some introductory definitions. 

What is metascript? SEAM juxtaposes the senior executive’s script against many alternatives, more marginalized scripts, so that the metascript is a multiplicity of contending and fragmented scripts of organization theatre. Henri Savall explains how to listen and diagnose the metascript of organization theatre:

“There are people who are the stars of organizational theatre. There is an off stage and an on stage, and those who work to perfect what takes place on the stage. There is a director, and there are people who think they can be better directors. There are people on the sidelines who want to replace the stars, who think they can do a better job. With so many directors and also spectators seeking to displace actors and become the new stars, the metascript becomes increasingly chaotic.”

"We are theatre therapists to organizations. SEAM methodology scribes the fragments of the metascript and presents a deconstruction of the script variations and incongruities in the “Mirror Effect” intervention (see intro article by Boje & Rosile in this issue). Then after the variations (of the metascript) are presented to organizational members, the rescripting intervention is jointly produced" (Boje & Rosile, 2003)

Act II: Mirror Effect - Like the "herald clown" the consultant heralds back to client in "Mirror Effect" all the problem scripts, acting them out and showing root causes of the hidden costs and hidden revenues from a misfit, metascript. In theatrical terms, SEAM’s Mirror Effect explores the many different scripts that populate an organization simultaneously, that collectively constitute its metascript. SEAM consultants meticulously record comments of executives and non-executives in individual and group interviews that we (the authors) believe constitute fragments of the metascript. Scribing and translating the metascript is the starting point for SEAM. SEAM methodology scribes the fragments of the metascript and presents a deconstruction of the script variations and incongruities in the “Mirror Effect” intervention (Boje & Rosile, 2002a, b).A co-reading of the collected fragments of metascript is the point of the Mirror Effect event.  SEAM juxtaposes the senior executive’s script against many alternatives, more marginalized scripts, so that the metascript is a multiplicity of contending and fragmented scripts. SEAM meticulously collects (what we assume to be) metascript from alternative viewpoints (i.e. executive, workers, technicians, and customers) in order to confront the organization with the “Mirror Effect.”  This can be a day-long event, and is devoted to reading to the corporation its own metascript and deconstructing dysfunctions in Metatheatre.

Act III : Intervention - Like the "Carnival Clown" the consultant provokes change by intervening in the on-going script of the organization. Changes to the metascript are proposed as SEAM ‘interventions.’  Each intervention is a re-scripting of the key ROOT CAUSE problems of the organization. Each intervention can use the Organizational Restorying Tool from the for Metatheatre Manual (See Chapter 7 New Metatheatre Intervention Tools Pages 45-48). 

7.1 Restorying tool to transform Metatheatre

Form 7.1 Restorying Tool to Rescript the Metatheatre

Seven Steps for Restorying

Metatheatre Questions

1.      Characterize – Describe the organization at its best, as if it were functioning perfectly and living up to all ideals

Characterize Metatheatre Dysfunctions:

·        What is the impact or influence of the relevant characters on the problem?

·        What is the problem’s influence on characters?

·        What is the “state of affairs” at the onset, middle, and end of the story?

·        How has the problem affected character’s relations with themselves (theatre of the mind)?

2.      Externalize the problem –What problems does the organization currently face? (Separate the problem from any individual character; Problem becomes its own story character)


·        The problem is the problem

·        The people are not the problem; a particular person is not the problem.

·        Make the problem into a character (“overwork”) that the person, as character, can affect.

·        Reduce the depressing effects of problem-saturated accounts.


3.      Sympathize – What benefits does the organization derive from the problem? What feeds the problem?

·        Identify the dualisms supporting the status quo.

·        Explore the dominant side of each dualism.

·        Explore the subordinate side of each dualism.

·        Study the construction of dualisms – how they are two sides of the same coin.

4.      Revise (Commitment to Change) – Explain the ways in which this problem has had negative effects. Would people really like to be rid of this problem? Why?

·        Disadvantages of the problem.

·        Explore the limitations of dualisms.

·        Deconstruct the dualisms.

Form 7.1 Restorying Tool for Metatheatre CONTINUED

5.      Strategize (Unique Outcome)  - Tell about a time when there was a “unique outcome,” when this problem was not as strong or when it was completely eliminated. Identify an existing potential to overcome the problem.

·        Deconstruct the problem.

·        Use “double descriptions: or alternative descriptions, so the story becomes “a story.”

·        Realize that multiple stores and outcomes are possible.

·        Expand the alternative story – what thoughts and feelings, what happened before, after?

6.      Re-historicize (Restory)  - Take the unique outcome and instead of it being the exception, make it the rule, the dominant story.  What evidence is there to support this “alternative” story? What might a news release say about your organization’s new plot, its ability to overcome this problem?

·        Choose the preferred new “dominant story.”

·        Choose the past “unique outcomes” that support the new story.

·        Choose the future predictions/predictors that support the new story?

7.      Publicize  - Who would say they could already see the basis for, or that they would support, this new organizational approach that is overcoming the old problem? Enlist the support of other stakeholders to ensure continuing success?

·        Stakeholder letters to recognize and encourage the storytellers’ efforts.

·        A reauthoring process to reauthor the new story.

·        Provide tangible evidence of support and interest. 

Source: Rosile, Grace Ann and David M. Boje (2002b). Restorying and postmodern organization theatre: Consultation to the Storytelling Organization. Chapter 15, pp. 270-289. In Ronald R. Sims (Ed.) Changing the Way we Manage Change. Westport CONN: Quorum Books.


Act IV: Evaluation - Like the "Healer Clown" the consultant measures the impact of all this clowning around. Follow up measures of impacts of the experiment on Hidden Costs and Hidden Revenues.

 Click Here for entire article.

[1] During our 2001 interview with Henri Savall at the EGOS conference in Lyon France was the first mention of the term “metascript.”  We continued our interview with Savall about metascript at the June 22 2002 session at ISEOR institute in France. Metascript, is a concept he uses, but has not written about.