I usually wait until I have a fully formed idea before I write a blog post, but this usually results in hundreds of drafts and only a couple of blogs actually published. So this one is more a collection of current rambling thoughts.
A big thing I’m realising this year is how beautiful words can be. I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road recently and it’s awesome and like no other book I’ve ever read. The characters aren’t even that nice, they don’t do particularly good things, but I loved them and I loved it and I loved it so much. The words flow like nothing else I’ve read and colour pictures in my mind that I remember as if I was actually there at the time hitch hiking on the back of a flat bed truck driven by two farming brothers driven fast across the country as an old man tries to piss from the back.
It turns out there is a reason I could relate to it. Jack Kerouac wrote using something called Spontaneous Prose. He took to writing all the time, sitting down and just writing everything he saw and everything he was thinking there and then without judgement. This comes across in his book, even though the characters do bad things sometimes there is a raw honesty about them which I love and makes me like them even more.
When it came to writing On the Road he taped manuscript paper together into one long reel and then typed out the whole novel in one go without paragraph breaks and with very little sleep over just a couple of weeks. The original novel is now in a museum near where he was born, and is hundreds of metres long going around a massive room, like a bayeaux tapestry of beat poet words.
He was so improv baby! That is such an improv way of writing, before improv was even a thing.
And get this, he was also on The Merry Prankster bus that notoriously travelled around America in the 60s and kick started the counter culture and eventual hippy movement of the 1960s.
And guess who else was on that bus? Del Close! Whoaaahhhhhh!!!
And guess who else? Ken Kesey! Author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Whaaaaa? I know right. The author of the book that first made me leave a job I hated and try out “other stuff”.
1950s beat movement leads to massive influence on one of the founding fathers of modern improv. It’s like lots of things that I love have suddenly formed into one tiny cultural big bang moment.
I love the stories of the birth of improv. It just sounds like such a wild experimental and exciting time with people voyaging into unknown areas of their minds and discovering beautiful things for the first time. You know ‘yes and’? That wasn’t a thing once! Imagine that!
From this era too I’ve also started re-reading Keith Johnstone’s Impro and it’s so exciting I have to keep buying new copies as I keep giving them away to people who haven’t read it as YOU JUST HAVE TO READ IT!!!! It is still so so so so relevant and in fact more relevant.
Keith Johnstone’s Impro was massively influential to the start of Hoopla when me and Edgar were setting up. And now we are re-reading it 10 years later it is even richer that I ever imagined or remembered. There is stuff in there that maybe didn’t make sense when I first read it but now basically sums up 10 years of my life.
Here’s a paragraph I just read:
“After a while a pattern is established in which each performance gets better and better until the audience is like a great beast rolling over to let you tickle it. Then hubris gets you, you lose your humility, you expect to be loved, and you turn into Sisyphus. All comedians know these feelings.”
Fuck me! Keith gives you a good kick in the balls/ego sometimes, and that was written in the 60s dude! I think I’ve spent about 5 years in Sisyphus state (I had to google that too it’s ok, I had to google hubris also!)
In fact his whole book is full of the most amazing insights that really break through format and structure and really get to the raw spirit of improvising and creating in general.
Books are messages that cross time and space directly into the eyes and hearts of strangers.
Aristotle. There’s a fucking dude right there. Walking along a beach, sees a squid, thinks “what the fuck is that”, writes about it, cue birth of modern science. It’s just amazing to think one human thousands of years ago can look around this world we all live in, find it beautiful, and write about it, and those words can survive for so long, sometimes lost of hundreds of years deep in hidden libraries in caves, and then come out again and inspire revolutions in thought. They way you think is shaped by people you don’t even know. It’s amazing.
Wow this place is amazing. What…the…fuck…is…all…this? Let’s write it all down. That’s Aristotle in a nutshell for me. This place we live in is amazing.
It’s weird to me that the words of thousands of years ago seem more beautiful than the words that get used today. It feels like a lot of words now are used to generate hate and divisions between people in the most simple way possible, using an almost robotic form of language written by iteration of likes and views instead of soul and feelings. I’d almost got to the point where the mere sight of writing made me feel sick.
At some point I feel there will be a greater realisation that there is a more beautiful way of expressing ourselves and communicating with each other and to future people. Suddenly I feel all political. I’m not usually political, in fact the last couple of general elections I actually banned talk of politics from our workshops and shows.
But I’m beginning to realise that impro is a political act. Listening to each other is a political act. Collaborating and creating together is a political act. You are what you do, and by doing those things you become someone who connects, listens, collaborates and creates instead of someone who ignores and destroys.
Going to an international impro festival, meeting people from different cultures, listening to them, creating with them, supporting them, is a political act, and a good one.
Sometimes I find myself thinking “but impro is just a bunch of people in a room having a good time and laughing, what’s the point in that?” As I’ve got a bit older I’m beginning to realise that that is the point, and for me it’s the greatest point of all.
So yes impro is political. But how could it change things if not many people do it? Well how about if that wasn’t true, what if actually loads of people did it? What if it was in every school in the whole of the UK? I bet that would change things that’s for sure. It’s not that unachievable, we live in a geographically small country with dense population with a centralised education system and good transport links. I think that’s possible. FUCK! There goes the hubris again.
Most of exciting thought for me at the moment is:
Do you know what the future of impro will be? NO! Neither do I! I feel like we’re about to jump into an unknown chapter of it and whatever ‘it’ is we won’t find out until 10 years from now. There is a style of impro and a bunch of shows and an audience and more that don’t even exist yet, aren’t defined and aren’t even thoughts yet.
Hello future impro buddies! When you’re reading this I want you to know I don’t know what you’re doing but I hope it’s fun and I hope it’s brave and I hope it’s exhilarating and I hope it connects you to the fun good things in the world.
Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK.