The future of long-form
Interview by Liam Brennan with Hoopla Steve.
I had a sit down interview with Hoopla Steve, to ask him about the future of long-form improvisation for Hoopla’s improv classes and shows. He had some really interesting ideas about the direction it’s going in, taking inspiration from the original zeitgeist that created long-form improv in Chicago and even further back! I’ve chatted to loads of other Hoopla teachers over the past few weeks and will let you know their thoughts soon but for the time being… here’s Steve!
As director of Hoopla Impro, what I hope our teachers and performers encourage is the idea that the future of long-form is not defined by us or anybody else. It’s something to be constantly experimented with.
Funnily enough, to look at the future of long-form, we need to first look at the past. Where did long-form come from?
Initially long-form improv came from the experimental art scene in Chicago, championed by famous improv figures such as Viola Spolin, David Shepherd and Del Close. They were part of a larger cultural movement of musicians, writers, artists and beat poets of the 50s and 60s. This was also when Jack Kerouac wrote his book ‘On the Road’, yet another artist who was discovering the heights of human creativity through the exploration of spontaneous thoughts.
Back then long-form was not set in stone and I don’t think it ever should be. If anything, that’s what the future of long-form is for me, in that it’s never going to be finished. We’ve always got to keep experimenting, it’s never right or wrong.
While Del is possibly most famous for inventing the Harold long-form format, it was just one of many forms and exercises he invented. It was always a constantly evolving thing. These formats were trying to get the best parts of culture from poetry readings, music, theatre and comedy and then merge it together as one rather than it being its own little specific thing.
So that’s one of the things I hope the future of long-form is, in that we can take a format and learn it but be prepared to change it and modify it. Make it modern, and make it reflect society. Make it reflect what the audience is now. I also want long-form to be reflecting the performers and the different cultures, people and styles on stage.
Whatever you like in real life, you could incorporate that into your long-form show. If you’re a really cool DJ (I’m not by the way), that could be a part of your long-form set. Rather than a group game in between each beat, you could be playing music. There could be a DJ on stage! As another example, I’m quite into growing vegetables and I’ve currently got a small patch in my back garden. That could influence my long-form somehow! Whatever you’re into, whatever you read about, whatever your beliefs are, that can influence a show.
Capturing the spirit of our times!
If you go back beyond even Del Close, Viola Spolin, David Shepherd and Keith Johnstone then you can see improv’s origins in Commedia dell’arte, a popular form of theatre in 16th century Italy. At the time Commedia was modern, topical and satirical. The performers were taking the piss out of the aristocracy and they were doing characters the audience would actually recognise. Whatever the news of the day was would end up in the show.
I think there’s going to be a return to more satirical improv. I want to encourage performers to have their own voice. I like improv for entertainment and for comedy but that show can also have a message. Whatever that message is, is entirely up to you and your team as performers. What do you want to make and say? You’re not doing a show that’s an impression of another improv show, you’re doing a show that’s a reflection of life and your real feelings and real points of view.
I’m really enjoying directing some of the new Hoopla house teams at the moment for this very reason. I now have one night of the week where it’s me with a group of experienced improvisers and we’re experimenting with stuff. For instance one team (who doesn’t even have a name yet) started off doing stand alone scenes from a single suggestion. That’s a pretty normal way of doing improv. So while we can keep that as an early basis for how to connect in rehearsals, we can move on from that and explore where else we can get suggestions from. So recently we’ve been exploring having each scene reflect a different stage of life, it gives scenes weight to make them about real human things like falling in love, being dumped, seeking friendships, growing older, bonding with family.
With Hoopla I see this experimentation all of the time and I’m proud of the fact that there is a diversity of forms explored at Hoopla. I want to encourage variety, and I like the fact that if I go to our theatre one night see all kinds of different show styles. For example, a narrative show performed by a house team like the Descendants. When that group started, they followed a strict narrative and then they mixed in influences from a more IO style long-form show. It’s basically the two married together and I think that’s quite powerful. The classical British theatre way of telling a story but mixed in with the Chicago style of let’s play a game of the scene and have fun around it as we go. The Descendants have changed their show format five times over the past year and that’s what we really wanted and encouraged, I admire their experimentation and playfulness and as a result of that they have bonded as a team and have an awesome show.
That’s where I want to take Hoopla, not look at formats as being set in stone and instead have the mentality of inspiring people to try all types of long-form and develop and create their own. Deconstructions might lead to improvised to satire which might lead to an improvised philosophy which might lead to some other new show I can’t imagine. Harolds might lead to some kind of Cloud Atlas style mix of scenes spanning time and space which might lead to something that doesn’t exist yet. Improvised movies might lead to improvised operas that might lead to a whole new genre of improv that we haven’t started yet. Fun times!
Blog by Hoopla teacher Liam Brennan, interviewing Steve Roe.
Hoopla’s next long-form courses start soon!