I just came back from Hamburg where I was teaching and performing for TÖRN festival. It’s difficult to be positive in the times we are living in and I was so happy to be at a festival where the theme was ‘How do we want to live?’. I was reminded that improv is of course not just entertainment, but an immediate response to our lived experience. It also gives us some tools to navigate the world and look at it with a positive spin. I’m not talking about toxic positivity where we are all inanely smiling and pretending it’s fine, but where we believe that change is possible; where we really can listen to all sides and continually question our own beliefs and actions.
Chris Mead and I took our improvised science fiction show Project2 to TÖRN in the form of Hopepunk. ‘Hopepunk’ is a subgenre of speculative fiction that is the opposite of ‘grimdark’. The term was coined by fantasy author Alexandra Rowland in 2017. It doesn’t mean being nice and avoiding conflict or setting your story in a perfect or beautiful world. Rowland gives an example; “sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is to stand up to a bully on their behalf, and that takes guts and rage”.
Counter to ‘grimdark’ fiction (violent, amoral and cynical) such as Game of Thrones, The Witcher, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, hopepunk lives in narratives like Mad Max: Fury Road, Lord of the Rings, The Expanse, Saga, The Good place and Parks and Recreation. Characters fight for positive change, community and kindness.
If you are feeling the darkness of the world, create ‘noblebright’ characters in your improvised fiction. Have them fight and take risks for a positive, empathetic, community outcome. And if you can, bring hopepunk into your own life, because kindness is a radical act.