CHAPTER 5: COLLECTIVE JOY. Historical influences on improv. Why did impro start when it did and why did it grow?

This chapter is part of a series of blogs about my personal opinions on the historical influences on improv, why it started when it started, why it survived and then flourished, and where it fits into the wider scheme of things.

CHAPTER 1: TV
CHAPTER 2: CENSORSHIP
CHAPTER 3: AUDIENCE
CHAPTER 4: EDUCATION
CHAPTER 5: COLLECTIVE JOY
CHAPTER 6: FUTURE 

Bring the Collective Joy back!

There’s an amazing book called ‘Dancing In The Streets’ by Barbara Ehrenreich that talks about The History of Collective Joy
regards festivals, dance, theatre, carnivals and shared human experiences. The Collective Joy of finding ecstasy (the emotion not the drug) by being at one with fellow humans, rather than being purely individualistic, competitive, defensive, isolated and depressed.

Much of this chapter is a summary from ‘Dancing In The Streets’:

It appears that The Group Mind might not have been a new discovery by Del Close, but actually an uncovering of what was previously the normal way of living for tens of thousands of years. If anything there was a temporary interruption of Collective Joy, slightly at first by the overwhelming authority of The Roman Empire, then The Catholic Church, and then mainly by a deliberate and systematic removal by Reformation, Puritans, Calvinists, Industrial Revolution and Mechanised War. There was a deliberate removal or controlling of human collective joy in order to create obedient factory workers, parishioners, and soldiers.

Now that we’re through the industrial revolution and World War it might be time to go back to being human. Can we have our collective joy back please? Yes?! Hurrah! Oh and by the way you don’t have to wait for permission to get it back. You don’t have to go to a night club sponsored by a vodka company, you don’t have to spend a week’s wages on Glastonbury, you don’t have to seek Arts Council funding, you don’t have to wait until a member of The Royal Family get married, you don’t have to gamble £2000 on Olympics tickets. You can just do it now, don’t ask permission, just do it.

It’s definitely not online though. In fact with everyone spending so much time on facebook collective joy events feel more important than ever (because they are). The digital will never take over completely from collective joy and genuine human connection, because we’re human and it’s in us.

In modern times there has been resurgence in Collective Joy. According to Dancing in the Streets this can be seen at first in things like the introduction of rock music. The birth of modern impro also coincides with the birth of rock & roll (late 1940s
and early 1950s) and the ultimate expression of modern collective joy – the rock concert. While some people were screaming at The Beatles, others were uniting in improvisation. The swinging sixties was probably the exact right environment for propagating impro.

An early hint of this comes from David Cregan, a director at The Royal Court Theatre, who said way back in 1958 that Keith Johnstone knew ‘how to unlock Dionysus’. Sometimes it’s scary to see our animal side, but it’s also exhilarating and liberating.

We look at impro as a new thing, but actually it’s one the earliest forms of theatre and as old as mankind itself. People were coming back from their days, telling tall tales, passing on stories and immediately re-enacting events way before they were writing down scripts. Keeping it alive is important because there’s something simple, fragile and human about it.

Impro’s Glorious Lack of Permanence

Impro has a joyful lack of permanence.

So much these days seems to be recorded and monitored. If I go to a party someone takes a photo and immediately puts it on facebook which I then immediately see on my phone and realise what an ugly fuck I actually am. Moment gone.

People sometimes wonder why I don’t film impro shows or write down funny impro scenes from workshops, but that’s missing one of the points of what makes impro good in the first place.

Impro is something that happens in one room, right now, just for those people, in The Moment. That’s so beautiful. It’s like watching your breathe on a frosty morning.

I used to want to do impro in order to eventually do a TV programme of impro (performing or producing it). Now I think TV doesn’t deserve something as beautiful as impro. Every Thursday I see a total beginner at impro workshops make up something in the moment that is funnier and more beautiful than an entire multi-million pound production team could make up in six months working full time.

Teams of TV Development twats sit around in hot tubs of latte and come up with “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” and think they’re the Beethoven of the screen. They aren’t. The world doesn’t need TV (I previously worked for five years as an Assistant Producer in Television before fully comprehending this. I was a twat. I still am, but don’t work in TV).

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Impro. Hoopla run improv courses, classes and shows in London and across the UK. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro.
Website: www.HooplaImpro.com

This chapter is part of a series of blogs about my personal opinions on the historical influences on improv, why it started when it started, why it survived and then flourished, and where it fits into the wider scheme of things.

CHAPTER 1: TV
CHAPTER 2: CENSORSHIP
CHAPTER 3: AUDIENCE
CHAPTER 4: EDUCATION
CHAPTER 5: COLLECTIVE JOY
CHAPTER 6: FUTURE 

 

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