CHAPTER SIX: FUTURE. 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.


Team Creativity

In many circles Creativity by Committee has a bad name. “We did a brainstorm once, it didn’t work” said Tom Logan, Manager. In Britain especially we celebrate the solo creative genius in arts and science; Danny Boyle made the Olympic ceremony, Frank Whittle made the jet engine in his shed, Isaac Newton invented physics. But I think it’s actually because that’s how we’ve been educated; most people haven’t been trained to work creatively together yet. In fact they’ve been actively untrained in team creativity.

Where this is changing fast is with comedy writing teams in America. They are trained in improv and work creatively together as teams, generating more and better content than individual writers. With further training this might start to spread into other areas of life.

At the moment improv creative skills are mainly used for entertainment, making up comedy shows. But at its core it’s about groups of people making up stuff that didn’t exist before. That’s a pretty helpful and beautiful skill to have, and could apply to many other professions and industries beyond entertainment. Architecture, Technology, Engineering, IT, Business. Creating ideas from scratch as a team can apply to everything and is at the route of progress.

Playing and working together as one group is when we thrive, it is our strength as humans, and collective joy is actually a step forwards in evolution not backwards.

Complexity Demands Teams

The Universe is more complicated than one mind alone can comprehend. Not long ago it was possible to read all books on science, philosophy etc in fact they were all wrapped up together into one subject.

Now the expansion of total human knowledge far outstrips the ability of a human to keep up with it, and is rapidly growing. You are never going to understand the whole world, there’s too much to understand, but you can understand bits of it and enough of it.

Perhaps group mind in the future is not only an option, it’s a necessity. We have to be able to listen to each other and work with each other. Otherwise our individual highly trained specialists are prone to go off in one direction just because they can, without any consideration of other consequences and call it progress instead of destruction.

Improv Activating the Subconscious and Intuition

For years humans were pursuing the spiritual and theological, and then following the appearance of modern science man explored the limits of reason and the conscious mind. More recently with Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell we explored the subconscious and collective subconscious. Improv feels like a step towards understanding how to actively use the conscious, subconscious and collective subconscious all together to be fully human. Instinct, Intellect and Intuition working in balance. It’s so exciting to be around at the start of this step.

Doing loads of improv you develop quite a good relationship with your subconscious and intuition, even collective subconscious, and also develop an interesting relationship between reality and the imaginary world. In fact you become rather good at making the imaginary world the new reality, which feels like magic when it’s going well.

In improv the conscious mind can deliberately give itself tasks that unleash the subconscious, and can then channel this to create story. Dreams can become instant reality on stage to the actor, that hopefully the audience also start to believe.

For instance if I’m in a scene and I’m in my head, stuck, I hold out my hands and pick ‘something’ up, the subconscious comes into play and tells me what it is. Unblocked, it turns out to be he best choice. Similarly I can say “I’ve got some news for you”, “I’ll tell you 5 things about”, “this makes perfect sense” and the subconscious is thrown into action, feeding the conscious mind. The subconscious is much better at improvising than ‘us’.

This is a skill that is helpful way beyond the impro stage, how to feed and use your subconscious.

Emotions and the Subconscious aren’t Unprofessional

From going on a number of Management and Assertiveness training courses with work I’ve noticed that their syllabus is almost the exact opposite of an improv sylabus. Sometimes ‘Being Professional’ at work seems to be pretending, inauthenticate and fake. Modern offices make me feel sick because of this.

Emotions and the subconscious have for too long been treated as enemies of being professional, but maybe now is the time to use them. Yes, there is often a lack of reason and intellect in the world, but there is more of a lack of empathy, compassion, emotion, intuition, awareness, happiness, love, listening, understanding, creativity, connection, care. Impro seems to accidentally teach these things as a pleasant side effect of making things up on stage.

The fact that we’re human and have emotions doesn’t make us less capable in the future, it makes us more so.

Professionalism shouldn’t be about hiding emotions. Emotions from a well-informed intelligent person don’t halt progress, they drive and shape it. Our complex emotions aren’t something to be ashamed of from our animal past, they are what makes us great and they are why we’ve evolved and what makes us strong.

Just doing things because they bring you to life and excite you might not have any inherent meaning. But then again deliberately not doing those things doesn’t have any meaning either. So you might as well do the things that excite you and bring you to life. After doing them you might intellectually find the meaning that was there all along, the subconscious can be a good driving force.

In technology there seems to be a growing idea that if we can do something we should do it, regardless of whether it is actually a worthwhile idea or has any virtue or integrity. Look at Google Glasses for instance, is that really what the human race needs? Yet another shield between us and reality?

Turning off our emotions because they are ‘unprofessional’ when making decisions is also turning off our values, our humanity and our life.

Emotions and collective joy don’t make us backward and unevolved, they are what made us a great species in the first place. Selfish individualism is what makes us weaker as a species. We are funny little creatures with no fur and not much physical ability, we get out-lived by trees, but we grew strong by our ability to work together as one.

I want to send the author of “Physics of the future” on an imporv course.
And improvisers on a physics course. Actually I’m about to start an Open
University Physics course, so there you go, let’s find out what happens
when the two worlds meet.

 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.

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.


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