Is shortform improv theatre? Is two people knocking a conversation together in alphabetical order, or one made entirely of questions, theatre?
Take a good solid Keith Johnstone concept, the Glorious Failure. Does the concept of the Glorious Failure exist in theatre? I will say no, that concept doesn’t exist in theatre. It doesn’t really exist in longform improv. But it does in shortform.
I think you have to be careful of conflating the descriptor with the dynamic. If I say “I’m going to the circus” then to a lot of people I’m going to sit in a very large tent watching trained animals and blokes wearing nightmare makeup. There’ll be people on trapezes and people throwing knives. Probably. But of course that is a very specific form and it is presently evolving. Which it has always done, to be fair (you’ll probably know that a circus was originally a horse race, which is how it got its name).
So if all these different forms of new circus (Cirque du Soleil, Circus Contraption for examples) can call themselves circus then what *is* the fundamental dynamic of circus? For me it is jeopardy and triumph of skill and courage over that jeopardy.
Go back to the fundamental performance dynamic. Take… we could take Johnstone’s first ever Theatresports game, the Hat Steal, but we’ll stay with the mighty Alphabet Game.
What is the performance dynamic? *Why* does it entertain an audience to watch two grown adults struggle with the alphabet? It is jeopardy. It is the triumph of skill and courage over that jeopardy. It is the fundamental dynamic of circus.