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

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  1,709 Ratings  ·  132 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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Apr 15, 2008 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, theater
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."
Oct 25, 2010 Nicholas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 12, 2010 David rated it really liked it
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
Feb 12, 2009 Cassidy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: théâtre
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 it was amazing  ·  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.
Mark Gently
Mar 13, 2016 Mark Gently rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alex-r, 2016-r
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.
Jan 11, 2014 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 29, 2009 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  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
Pedro Alcantara
Apr 20, 2010 Pedro Alcantara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 10, 2015 Brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 14, 2011 Chris March rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 25, 2009 Sherrie Gingery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 13, 2016 Darcy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: acting
I found the start of this book riveting!! but then it kind of tapered off to a boring collection of words. the information was most useful though!
Francoise Hontoy
Dec 24, 2016 Francoise Hontoy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Too much ranting and generalization of that same ranting for me. Assuming he knows it all.
This made it difficult to find the valuable parts in the book. I gave up.
Qiaochu Yuan
Dec 27, 2016 Qiaochu Yuan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think about this book constantly.
Apr 23, 2016 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: toplist
There’s this one movie from 1981 that I think everyone should watch, it’s called My Dinner With Andre. Those of you who haven’t seen it should see it because it stars the clever dude with the poison cups in The Princess Bride. Those who have will love to hear that this book is essentially Andre giving a delightful 200-page lecture.

Let me preface this by saying I don’t know anything about theatre. I’ve never acted on a stage, much less improvised a scene with others (how frightening). Yet by read
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.
Aug 03, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
This book, contrary to my initial expectations, is not really about how to be a better improviser -- it's actually about how directors can use improvisation to improve their actors' overall dramatic skills. The book had been recommended to me as being useful for an improviser and I was disappointed when it failed to live up to that.

The sections where Johnstone talks about the variety of games he invented or borrowed or adapted for the theater are quite interesting, and improvisers will recognize
Sep 28, 2016 Geert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Status: very interesting
Spontaneity: interesting
Narrative: short, but like to learn more
Masks/Trance: not my cup of tea
Feb 13, 2009 Lily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Johannessen
Jul 09, 2016 Erik Johannessen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Huyền Chip
Nov 26, 2015 Huyền Chip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 29, 2014 Zach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gavin Morgan
Feb 22, 2015 Gavin Morgan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 30, 2013 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just taken my first improv class, and not being a trained actor, this book was probably one step above my pay grade. There were a fair amount of improv luminaries and plays that were referenced that I couldn't truly appreciate. Still, while I may have appreciated it more if I had first read a more basic intro to improv, I truly enjoyed Impro. I especially enjoyed reading about the improv games and exercises and how Johnstone's students reacted to them.

Here's some favorite passages:
May 21, 2013 DT rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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KEITH JOHNSTONE is one of the few internationally recognized authorities in the field of improvisation, great chunks of which he created, including improvisation forms that include Theatresports, Maestro Impro (or Micetro Impro), Gorilla Theatre, and The Life Game. Keith has written two best selling books about his Theatre and Improvisation theories and practices, in addition to several plays and ...more
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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.” 6 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.” 3 likes
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