Read Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone Online


Keith Johnstone's involvement with the theatre began when George Devine and Tony Richardson, artistic directors of the Royal Court Theatre, commissioned a play from him. This was in 1956. A few years later he was himself Associate Artistic Director, working as a play-reader and director, in particular helping to run the Writers' Group. The improvisatory techniques and exerKeith Johnstone's involvement with the theatre began when George Devine and Tony Richardson, artistic directors of the Royal Court Theatre, commissioned a play from him. This was in 1956. A few years later he was himself Associate Artistic Director, working as a play-reader and director, in particular helping to run the Writers' Group. The improvisatory techniques and exercises evolved there to foster spontaneity and narrative skills were developed further in the actors' studio then in demonstrations to schools and colleges and ultimately in the founding of a company of performers, called The Theatre Machine.Divided into four sections, 'Status', 'Spontaneity', 'Narrative Skills', and 'Masks and Trance', arranged more or less in the order a group might approach them, the book sets out the specific techniques and exercises which Johnstone has himself found most useful and most stimulating. The result is both an ideas book and a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity....

Title : Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781136610417
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre Reviews

  • Sara
    2019-05-08 10:27

    A book that changed my life. The idea of saying yes and being present, of not blocking and not needing to be the cleverest person on the room have made me more open to adventure and, I'm pretty sure, happier overall.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-19 07:44

    "Switch off the no-saying intellect and welcome the unconscious as a friend: it will lead you places you never dreamed of, and produce results more 'original' than anything you could achieve by aiming at originality."

  • David
    2019-05-07 05:30

    A strange book with a lot of interesting observations, even for those uninterested in improvisational theater. Sometimes he fixates on a concept (like masks) which incrementally raises his new-age mumbo jumbo tally for me--but generally he tells an interesting story about his experiments, outcomes and thoughts about understanding characters and their motives. For example, he talks about how he was finally able to get his actors to improvise realistic dialog when he had them imagine that, with every line, they were to try and change their social status in the group by the smallest amount possible. It is extremely illuminating and unsettling to pay attention to these status exchanges in your daily communications.I highly recommend it!

  • Nicholas
    2019-05-24 04:42

    The part about status was very good. The rest, meh.Quotes:"People think of good and bad teachers as engaged in the same activity, as if education was a substance, and that bad teachers supply a little of the substance, and good teachers supply a lot. This makes it difficult to understand that education can be a destructive process, and that bad teachers are wrecking talent, and that good and bad teachers are engaged in opposite activities.""I play low status physically but my actual status is going up, since only a very confident and experienced person would put the blame for failure on himself.""For example, many students will begin an improvisation, or a scene, in a rather feeble way. It's as if they're ill, and lacking in vitality. They've learned to play for sympathy. However easy the problem, they'll use the same old trick of looking inadequate. This ploy is supposed to make the onlookers have sympathy with them if they 'fail' and it's expected to bring greater rewards if the 'win'. Actually this down-in-the-mouth attitude almost guarantees failure, and makes everyone fed up with them. No one has sympathy with an adult who takes such an attitude, but when they were children it probably worked. As adults they're still doing it. Once they've laughed at themselves and understood how unproductive such an attitude is, students who look 'ill' suddenly look 'healthy'. The attitude of the group may instantly change.""If someone points a camera at you you're in danger of having your status exposed, so you wither clown about, or become deliberately unexpressive. In formal group photographs it's normal to see people guarding their status. You get quite different effects when people don't know they're being photographed.""Such animals confront each other, and sometimes fight, until a hierarchy is established, after which there is no fighting unless an attempt is being made to change the 'pecking order'.""Normal people are inhibited from seeing that no action, sound, or movement is innocent of purpose.""Breaking eye contact can be high status so long as you don't immediately glance back for a fraction of a second. If you ignore someone your status rises, if you feel impelled to look back then it falls.""Again I change my behavior and become authoritative. I ask them what I've done to create this change in my relation with them, and whatever they guess to be the reason - 'You're holding eye contact', 'You're sitting straighter' - I stop doing, yet the effect continues. Finally I explain that I'm keeping my head still whenever I speak, and that this produces great changes in the way I perceive myself and am perceived by others.""It's very likely that you will increasingly be conditioned into playing the status that you've found an effective defense. You become a status specialist, very good at playing one status, but not very happy you competent at playing another. Asked to play the 'wrong'status, you'll feel 'undefended'.""Non-defense is exploited by the wolf who exposes his neck and underbelly to a dominant wolf as a way of ending a losing battle. The top Wolf wants to bite, but can't. Some Congolese soldiers dragged two white journalists out of a jeep, shot one and were about to shoot the other when he burst into tears. They laughed and kicked him back to the jeep and let him drive away, while the waved and cheered. It was more satisfying to see the white man cry than to shoot him.""He believed that it was necessary to play low status within his working-class community, not realizing that you can play high or low in any situation. His problem is that he plays low status well and he won't experiment with other skills.""'Ten golden rules' for people who are Number Ones. He says, 'They apply to all leaders, from baboons to modern presidents and prime ministers.' They are:1. You must clearly display the trappings, postures and gestures of dominance.2. In moments of active rivalry you must threaten your subordinates aggressively.3. In moments of physical challenge you (or your delegates) must be able forcibly to overpower your subordinates.4. If a challenge involves brain rather than brown you must be bale to outwit your subordinates."5. You must suppress squabbles that break out between your subordinates.6. You must reward your immediate subordinates by permitting them to enjoy the benefits of high ranks.7. You must protect the weaker members of the group form undue persecution.8. You must make decisions concerning the social activities of your group.9. You must reassure your extreme subordinates form time to time.10. You must take the initiative in repelling threats or attacks arising from outside your group.""Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more 'respectful' reaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many 'well adjusted' adults are bitter, uncreative, frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that's what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing.""Sanity has nothing to do with the way you think. It's a matter of presenting yourself as safe. Little old men wander around London hallucinating visibly, but no one gets upset. The same behavior in a younger, more vigorous person would get him shut away. A Canadian study on attitudes to mental illness concluded that it was when someone's behavior was perceived as 'unpredictable' that the community rejected them.""There are people who prefer to say 'Yes', and there are people who prefer to say 'No'. Those who say 'Yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say 'No' are rewarded by the safety they attain. There are far more 'No' sayers around than 'Yes' sayers, but you can train one type to behave like the other.""You have to trick students into believing that the content isn't important and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere. It's the same kind of trick you use when you tell them that they are not their imaginations, that their imaginations have nothing to do with them, and that they're in no way responsible for what their 'mind' gives them. In the end they learn how to abandon control while at the same time they exercise control. They begin to understand that everything just just a shell. You have to misdirect people to absolve them of responsibility. Then, much later, then become strong enough to resume the responsibility themselves. By that they they have a more truthful concept of what they are.""There is a box that we are forbidden to open. It contains a great serpent and once opened this monster will stream out forever. I lift the lid, and for a moment it seems as if the serpent will destroy us; but then it dissipates into thin air, and there, at the bottom of the box, is the real treasure."

  • Cassidy
    2019-04-26 04:30

    Definitely a book to reread every few years. I feel a revival of my inner-contrarian and I've gotten a few improv games out of it to boot! The chapter on status is hiLARious. I believe I now have a new perspective on self-expression as not really being about the individual, especially in theatre. I had a lover once who said making art and becoming an artist were peculiar to the West. Johnstone expanded on this idea in a way that made me a bit uncomfortable at times, making broad claims from what seemed to me an imperialist perspective. But at least he was trying not to apply European standards of art to the rest of the world.

  • Nick
    2019-05-04 10:40

    This is going to sound corny: this isn't just a book about improvisation, IT'S A BOOK ABOUT LIFE!! Okay, terrible, but true. Johnstone writes about human psychology and the way we interact socially as a way into comedy and improvisation. That bestseller "Blink" shamelessly quotes from it, yet the surprising insights this book reveals make that book rather dull in comparison.

  • Martin Sebesta
    2019-04-25 02:37

    Není to kniha, ale životní filozofie. A divadla se taky týká vlastně jen napůl. Nejvíc ze všeho je to boj proti extrémní racionalitě západní civilizace, která se projevuje selháváním i v bytostně lidských situacích, jako je dostat se do tranzu (přeneseně i nepřeneseně) nebo vyprávět příběh. Svým způsobem je to návod, jak se poprat s prokrastinací, který byl napsán, ještě než se slovo prokrastinace vůbec objevilo. A možná úplně ze všeho je to příručka pro západního člověka, jak žít zase o trochu přirozeněji a občas ten všudypřítomný rozum vypnout.Rozhodně se vyplatí přečíst, i když se nechystáte na divadelní prkna.

  • Alejandro Sanoja
    2019-05-02 03:20

    In life we are taught to be polite, to not always express what we are thinking. In business, it is wise to conceal emotions and reactions so that we don't give away information. In improvisation and acting... we have to do the complete opposite! What a challenge. Thanks to my friend José for giving me this book, it has expanded my mind and perception in many ways. Hopefully, it will make me a better improviser and overall better human. This is also a great book if you want to be better at public speaking. Yet, it is most valuable if you want to be great at listening. Especially listening with your eyes. Some of my highlights:"An artist has to accept what his imaginations gives him, or screw up his talent.""An artist who is inspired is being obvious. He's not making any decisions, he's not weighing one idea against another. He's accepting his first thoughts.""Once you understand that every sound and posture implies a status, then you perceive the world quite differently, and the change is probably permanent... This ability to perceive the underlying motives of casual behavior can also be taught.""I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children."

  • Huyen Chip
    2019-05-08 08:29

    The merit for this book's four star came entirely from the chapter "Status". Johnstone saw life as nothing but a series of transactions of status. This chapter made me conscious about how I carry myself and what I do with the space around me. Space has everything to do with status. The more space you take up, the higher you put your status. The more uncomfortable we are in a situation, the less we know what to do with space around us. What Johnstone wrote about status suddenly made me understand why we are so awkward around people we have a crush on. When we have a crush on someone, our status goes lower in regard to that person, yet we try to act higher status to impress that person. The other chapters are just "meh". It was difficult for me to finish the first chapter “Notes on myself”. The author’s self-absorbedness bothered me, and I had to constantly remind myself that a work of autobiographical nature would inevitably suffer from self-absorbedness since it requires a certain degree of self-lovingness for someone to write about himself. The chapter “Spontaneity” struck me as politically incorrect. Keith Johnstone kept talking about “carving coffee tables” as a degrading job and I wonder what’s wrong with carving coffee tables. The way he talked about artists of different cultures is not how I would be comfortable with saying in public. The book was written in 1979, so people probably different values back then. I also don't quite agree with Johnstone's belief that education was the sole culprit for our loss of spontaneity. He argued that we all had spontaneity as we were kids, but school gradually killed it. I think think another huge culprit is time. We grow up. When we start having responsibility, we have to think about consequences of our action, and subsequently spontaneity becomes a luxury. I had expected more from the chapter “Narrative”. Narrative techniques Johnstone talked about are very helpful when we encounter writer’s blocks. However, Johnstone also noticed that most of these techniques would be considered tricks that don’t have a lot of literary value.

  • Mark Gently
    2019-05-05 05:42

    This was a fun read. I will probably do some of these improv exercises with my partner. The last section, on "Masks and Trance", contains some good anecdotes about trance states, hypnosis, and general suggestibility, which I found particularly interesting.

  • Michael Roman
    2019-04-26 10:24

    I like books that help you think differently about the world.There are some key insights in this book about "status" and body language that I haven't read elsewhere. Those ideas alone make the book worth reading - eye contact, trading in status, what your status is to others and how that affects your interactions.There are also some great insights about education in the book.My favorite quote I shared right away on social media: "When I hear that children have an attention span of ten minutes, or whatever, I'm amazed. Ten minutes is the attention span of bored children."Isn't that true for all of us? When we're bored, our attention span shrinks.Don't bore people is great advice.

  • Charlie
    2019-05-24 09:29

    An excellent book. I plan to reread it.

  • Nathan
    2019-05-02 02:35

    Overall, I would rate this book a three, but I gave it a four for some excellent insights it has on interpersonal relationships and drama that I think work just as well in business and life.An eclectic mix of autobiography and techniques, Johnson enlivens this encyclopaedia of improv techniques with stories of how he learnt and applied the techniques in his own work. There are some remarkable insights in the book that I imagine have made their way into other books but I have seen little discussion of them in broader business texts. The book lacks some basic overall structure; particularly at the start and the end (no distinct conclusion), but also in-between the major sections to guide, sum up and coach readers in applying what they've learnt (eg. start with x and y, then use z with this kind of student, etc.).As an encyclopaedia, it's excellent; as a guide book, it is lacking, as a biography it is interesting but incomplete. Nonetheless, it's worth a read.The edition I read was published in London by Eyre Methuen in 1981.

  • Kelly
    2019-05-09 06:48

    My husband gave me this book because of the gems it may contain about how people interact with each other and how that might reflect on business 'performance'. I really liked this book and draw on it sometimes since finishing it. I found it incredibly interesting and valuable as a means to provide insight into our regular daily behaviour. I think about the techniques when observing people in their daily lives and can really find insightful truths in observations of human behaviour. It's not necessary to be in the theatre to enjoy and learn from this book, but I do look forward to evalutating the use of these techniques next time I go to the theatre. As for its applicability to business, the creative stimulation is relevant everywhere.

  • Lisa Burton
    2019-05-07 02:48

    I'm loving it so far. It's a little harder to trudge through than Improvise by Mick Napier because the writing style is different, but it has a lot more specific ideas to offer to the world of improvisation and the theatre. There are some same ideas that are worded differently that sheds new light on improv scenes specifically for directors of troupes or classes which I kind of like. There are also some good teaching techniques and excercizes(I always misspell this word...did I do it right?) in this book.

  • Pedro Alcantara
    2019-05-02 02:26

    This is a mind-opening, mind-bending, mind-caressing, and mind-shaping book. It helped me understand some basic mechanisms in all human relationships, thereby making me a more astute and compassionate interlocutor. It invited me to embrace improvisation as a lifestyle and state of mind . . . very constructive! And it gave me a glimpse of a whole other world which you enter when you wear the Mask.All in all, my favorite book. I never tire of re-reading it.

  • Brendan
    2019-04-25 06:37

    One of my favorite books about improv though I still struggle to apply the lessons I learn from this book. Each time I pick it up I gain something different. This time I stopped without reading most of the "Masks" section as I don't plan on using masks in the near future, but the rest was great. I look forward to picking it up again in a couple of years and seeing what I learn next time.

  • Chris March
    2019-05-02 05:45

    I'm not an actor, but I found the author's discussions of human social behavior and creativity to be eye-opening. If you're interested in spontaneity, brain-storming, co-operative verbal games, rapid narrative construction, personalities, body language, or performance, you might enjoy reading this.

  • Sherrie Gingery
    2019-04-26 03:23

    Not just about improv acting but can be applied to every day life. Wonderful for self-analysis and communication skills.I recommend this book to anyone interested in unlocking their creative powers.

  • Jaime Soria
    2019-05-09 04:45

    Yowza, this book reads very much like a textbook. Be prepared for lots of intense concentration. It took me quite awhile to finish reading, which probably stems from my lifetime aversion to school and classes of any kind. I've come to realize that despite my hesitation to take improv classes, and my lack of excitement or happiness when I do take them, I do need to continue. The benefits to my auditions and scenework are undeniable. Reading about the different improvisational games and techniques Johnstone used with his classes helped me to understand WHY we're doing these activities, and what improvements they can bring to our performances. I loved the first three sections of this book: Status (a useful section I will likely reread in the future), Spontaneity, and Narrative Skills. Some of the information was a teeny bit dated, but most of it can still be applied to our work today. The fourth section, Masks and Trance, was kind of a mystery to me. It was so different from the rest of the book, it almost seemed like it was written by a different author. I've never in my studies of theatre or acting learned anything about masks or trance, so I was quick to label this entire section as bullshit. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd experienced work this area, but we'll probably never know. I don't often hear of Masks being used in training anymore.

  • Nick
    2019-05-01 10:48

    A mesh of anecdote, teaching techniques, and psychology, Impro provides a clever and insightful introduction to basic theater exercises and methodology. The book is written for instructors of theater classes, but the insights into human intuition and body language can be helpful for anyone inside or outside of the acting community.The first two chapters, "Status" and "Spontaneity", are by far the most interesting and applicable. Rather than telling the reader how to elevate his/her status or become more spontaneous, the author describes where theater students go wrong in trying to act out these qualities. While not intended as direct advice, the author's comments illustrate important and applicable principles that any reader can use to adjust their own behaviors.The last two chapters, "Narrative Skills" and "Masks and Trance", lean more towards theater-specific than the first two. Although interesting, they can be mostly skimmed over by the typical reader.

  • Katie
    2019-05-25 04:36

    Hm, I feel like I really liked the first 3 sections, and then I got lost in the 4th (Masks and Trance). Improv is a pretty interesting subject to me right now. I like some of its principles (saying yes, not blocking, staying in the moment) and I thought some of the advice about spontaneity (and acceptance of whatever comes) and how status exchanges make a scene more believable were quite interesting.But I think towards the end the book got a little long and I found myself skimming more than reading.*also note that my reviews for nonfiction are still not well-calibrated at all! I have no idea what to expect yet...

  • Shaye
    2019-05-17 06:19

    A treasure of invaluable insight and practical advice for overcoming creative blocks. The strategies read fluently on the page, as though they are being taught during an improv class. The content is not simply for theatre, but for all forms of creativity. Johnstone’s insight into what causes creative blocks is enlightening and always feels as though he really just wants to help people experience their true creative potential - to tap into the muse. The bit about masks was very interesting, but into some things that are difficult for me to see myself being able to experiment with. I am intrigued by it nonetheless.

  • Mike
    2019-05-04 10:48

    A tough book to rate as there were flashes of insight that definitely make the book worth reading but at times it meanders off into obscure topics especially someone with little experience of improvisation. Perhaps this highlights my lack of understanding and I am sure I will revisit this book again in the future. As others have mentioned the sections on status transactions make this worth a read but at the moment it is possible I lack the comprehension skills to realise how valuable a resource this truly is.

  • Rea Bailey
    2019-04-25 07:48

    This has taken me forever to read! It was very informative however I really struggled to read it as I've been taught most of this before or have heard of it and he has explained it how my teachers have explained it. I realise this is the book my teachers taught by, far enough! Very well written as well!

  • Aurora
    2019-05-14 05:27

    Forty years after it was written, this book still gleams, even for people who like me have nothing to do with the theater. Just reading the book makes you feel more alive. Keith's insights are kind, strange, and marvellously human. If more people taught like he does, we'd live in much freer, saner societies.

  • Atman Pandya
    2019-05-07 07:31

    This book is a great reading accompaniment for anyone taking Improv Classes.It distills the concepts covered in Improv Classes and drills the fundamentals in your head. Definitely read it if you are taking an Improv Comedy Course

  • Keshav Zodey
    2019-05-16 06:20

    The book is about Improvisation techniques in theatre and drama but the author delves much deeper in to the nature of human interaction and is a great learning material for utilizing Improvisation techniques in our day to day interactions.

  • satej soman
    2019-05-06 03:46

    Some really insightful comments on the links between body language and status and the notes on narrative building introduce an interesting idea about "interrupted routines". The parts around spontaneity are mildly engaging but the entire chapter on Masks is skippable.

  • Matěj
    2019-05-26 02:25

    A bit unbalanced in the latter half. The focus on masks seems to have overshadowed all the preceding material, although it's not as prevalent in today's mainstream practice. That's not to say it shouldn't be in a book on improvisation, however. Nota bene, the book was written some 40 years ago.