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Impro (Performance Books): Improvisation and the Theatre
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Impro (Performance Books): Improvisation and the Theatre

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  1,308 ratings  ·  111 reviews
A leading figure in the theatre, Keith Johnstone lays bare his techniques and exercises to foster spontaneity and narrative skill for actors.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 31st 2007 by Methuen Drama (first published 1979)
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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.
Aug 19, 2008 Sarah is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
"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."
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ev
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 ...more
Aug 11, 2007 Nick rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists, thespians, budding social psychologists
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.
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 discussi
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 nece ...more
Lisa Burton
Sep 17, 2008 Lisa Burton rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Improvisors and Theatre geeks
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 ...more
Karen Chung
Reposting my July 18, 2010 Amazon review of this book:

Delving deep into the human psyche

Beyond being the most important work on improvisation I know of, this book is wonderful just for the many insights it provides into the human heart. I originally borrowed it from the library, read it carefully and took copious notes - then realized I wanted my own copy for future reference and rereading. I don't do this with many books, so this says a lot about how much this work has to offer. One of J's most
It's a short manual for improv games in the theater, but it touches on dynamics of human relationships. Specifically, each interaction is a status interaction; one is high and the other is low. For a theater person, the trick is to have the actors play one step above or below, because the subtleties draw out the contrast.

However, this status play works for any human interaction. For example, I do not like to bother or interrupt people at work, because I'm aware of its disruptive power. So, when
Hannah C
Such a lovely read, thanks to Kenter, written by a pioneer of improvisational theater. A short read, this is one of those pieces that allows you to think about, and possibly talk slightly more intelligently about, not only the art form in question, but presents concepts that can be applied to one's way of thinking about many other art forms and even more broadly to almost any area of life. I've loved improv and always wondered how anyone could be so creative so seamlessly. The sections of this s ...more
Pedro Alcantara
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.
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
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.
Mark Oppenlander
Impro is a book I feel like I have read before. Having performed and even taught improvisation for a number of years, I am familiar with a lot of Johnstone's ideas. But this is the first time I have read his seminal work cover to cover.

In this relatively short book, Johnstone discusses some of the techniques he evolved for training his actors to perform improv and also his techniques for directing improvised shows. He has four major sections: Status, Spontaneity, Narrative and Masks and Trance.
Chris Jensen
This is my bible for teaching.
I have lost count of how many times I have re-read it.

Want to teach impro? Read this book.
Want to teach leadership and courage? Read this book.
Want to teach students to find their confidence and self worth? Read this book.
Want to learn skills and outlooks that will help you in the business world? Read this book.
Want to look at the world afresh? Read this book.
Want to understand why acting is an essential skill that every student should be learning? Read this book.

Sherrie Gingery
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.
Elf M.
There are three sections to Impro, but as a writer, it was the first that led me to give this book five stars. Johnstone's notions about how dialogue is always about status at first shocked me, and then made me think, and then by gods it made me a much better writer. Dialogue in fiction is always about wanting something, and so the characters jostle for it, either by assuring connection or seeking authority, and Johnstone's simple idea about how to think about dialogue that way is so illuminatin ...more
Gavin Morgan
I just finished reading "Impro" by Keith Johnstone, and I'm going to need to read it again.

It feels like one of the most important books I've ever read, but it was terrifying. I am normally afraid of flying, but as I read it on a flight home, I was more afraid that I was too feebly inducted to the Mask, afraid of the trance state that I've never encountered.

I was repeatedly filled with gratitude for my theater teacher's brief tutelage, and envious of my past self doing this work in the school th
Erik Johannessen
Given my utter lack of any background in theater or improvisation, it’s fair to say that I would never have picked up Impro without some strong recommendations from people whose opinions I value. Given the subject matter, it’s easy to ignore as a narrow book devoted to a particular field of study, but I found it to have a lot of relevant value to me. If one considers that the study of acting is the study of how people emote, interact, tell stories, and share values, one can consider Impro as a g ...more
I imagine Johnstone's little nuggets woulda been a tad more succulent had Ms. Liba Vaynberg not already preempted the element of surprise.
Right now I am typing with a band-aid on my pointer finger, which makes me think of what it must be like for Margot Tenenbaum to type.
But anyway, as for the stuff in, erm, this book:
I am sure it will become a seminal theatre and life text, as we all knew it would, for this one Lily Janiak.
The things on blocking (as in, "preventing," not the term for the stagi
Chloe Adeline
Oh my god, this book is lovely. It's "about" how to teach improvisational acting...but it's really about relationships, creativity, imagination, and trusting your own flow and instincts. So many interesting anecdotes and ideas for anyone who's interested in creativity, dreams, or just becoming more socially and personally aware.

Two chapters I loved were on Status and Masks. The first looked at the intricacies of human interactions and how status plays out in everything we do at a very fundamenta
Tara deCamp
At first glance this book seems to be solely about improvisational theatre only -- things I'm mildly interested in, but not something I'd seek out in the library. It was recommended to me -- and for good reason.

This book at its core is about human behavior and interactions between people; it explains our motivations and the human experience. There are so many elements in human interactions, ones I knew existed but never thought about on the level that Johnstone explains. I was surprised by how a
An absolutely essential introduction to improvisation. Keith Johnstone, the author, is one of the founders of modern improvisation. That can only be said of a few others, such as Del Close or Viola Spolin.

If you read other books on improv, this book may come as something of a shock. It's more a philoshical journey of the why's of improv, rather than a how-to guide. It delves deeply into how Johnstone started experimenting with improvisational techniques, what's wrong with the modern education s
A sort-of interesting book that's nominally about improvisation and acting. It was mentioned by a few different sources as being useful for learning to be a little more creative. The first few chapters are interesting and contain a mix of philosophy and exercises for acting groups.

The one on status talks about how interactions between people can be thought of in terms of playing high or low status. (Its relation to acting, for instance, is that a tragedy is often a story about how a high-status
Jeff Brateman
Impro is a book about the psychological and sociological effects of entertaining, and how to easily remove the walls society has placed on us to be our funny selves. Johnstone describes techniques to increase spontaneity, be aware and able to manipulate one's status, and know how to tell a story. These are all useful skills outside of the improvisational theater, but obviously are meant to be applied on stage. This is a useful guide to both the improv student (me), and the improv teacher. I woul ...more
I enjoyed it immensely. My wife and have been involved in improv comedy for the past five years, and I've had the pleasure of encountering many of the innumerable "games" that improvisers play to bring out their spontaneous creative activity.

I have long thought that there's a deep, deep well of ideas being expressed in this space, and this book, while on the one hand being full of concrete examples and ideas for improv teams to try, also goes further than that and is essentially a "theory of im
Attention all those interested in the human development field: educators, artist, psychologist, and other social scientists, this book is a MUST READ!

Mr Johnstone discusses in depth the different elements in telling a story and breaking it down to the basics, but it reveals much more on the human experience and what makes us tick. He also touches upon how formal education can be a detriment to the development of children, and how important it is to allow and create a safe environment for childr
Christo Fogelberg
Parts of this book are definitely worth reading, so good they've been like electro-convulsive therapy for how I think. Ostensibly all about improvised theatre, it's really about people, and it offers a shotgun blast of novel perspectives and ideas for creativity, expressiveness and self-presentation. Best of all is a detailed discussion of status in chapter 2, what it means, what drives it for an individual relative to other people and simple inanimate entities, and how superficial and actual st ...more
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  • Freeing the Natural Voice
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“As I grew up, everything started getting grey and dull. I could still remember the amazing intensity of the world I'd lived in as a child, but I thought the dulling of perception was an inevitable consequence of age - just as a lens of the eye is bound gradually to dim. I didn't understand that clarity is in the mind.” 4 likes
“The mime must first of all be aware of this boundless contact with things. There is no insulating layer of air between the man and the outside world. Any man who moves causes ripples in the ambient word in the same way a fish does when it moves in the water.” 2 likes
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