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Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,855 ratings  ·  244 reviews
In this landmark work Keith Johnstone provides a revelatory guide to rediscovering and unlocking the imagination. Admired for its clarity and zest, Impro lays bare the techniques and exercises used to foster spontaneity and narrative skill for actors. These techniques and exercises were evolved in the actors' studio, when he was Associate Director of the Royal Court and th ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 9th 1987 by Routledge (first published June 18th 1979)
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  2,855 ratings  ·  244 reviews

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Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theater, non-fiction
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. ...more
Aug 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aug 17, 2008 is currently reading it
"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." ...more
Aug 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Huyen Chip
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Cassidy Barnes
Dec 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Roman
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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, o
Mark Moon
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this little book. As i may have said countless times, i love those books that take my thoughts by the hand and take them to places that they have never been before. This made me think about acting and improvisation and comedy in a way that i had never considered. The coincidence was while i had randomly picked this book up to read (or was it just subliminal thinking) i was attending a training session in NYC and the first evening of the training session a group of improvisation people fr ...more
Alejandro Sanoja
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended to me by a friend who was acutely aware of my interest in the occult and my active practice of magic. I was surprised to find that many of the techniques used and goals sought after are the same. I started with little interest in theater but this book was incredibly hard to put down, and actually may inspire me to pursue improv in the future.
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Holy fuck. Life will never be the same.
Jan 11, 2014 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
Pedro Alcantara
Apr 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aysja Johnson
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I happened to reread Impro at a time when I was thinking a lot about minds, and it was the perfect springboard to many of the thoughts which would slowly change my ontology about them. It’s really a phenomenal book! I will try to contain this review to the most salient points, but it shaped me much more than I can convey… And with that, here are my thoughts:

The book is split into four parts; status, spontaneity, narrative skills, and masks and trace. Each one is itself a treasure, but my absolut
Sandy Maguire
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is oddly popular in my non-theatrical circles, so I figured I'd give it a go. The first half is a man talking about the improv games he teaches and what they can teach about about interpersonal relationships. A lot of his message is that beginning improvisers need to be protected from themselves; that they need to be given permission to fail in order to take chances and become better. I find myself thinking about this a lot now that he's mentioned it.

The other big takeaway was in stat

A really good book, about storytelling as a whole as well as theatre and improvisation. I would’ve given it 5 stars if it weren’t for two things:

1. That chapter about masks and trance = too long, too boring and surprisingly badly written? Took as long for me to read as the rest of the book. (Bear in mind that I read a translation)

2. Towards the end, in that same chapter, I was fed up with the casual sexism and exoticism. The whole thing really didn’t sit well with me at all. (Especially the
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs-from-pals
Full of great intuitions about how humans relate. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of: status-raising and status-lowering games (and how you can be high status but play low, and vice versa); the challenges of extracting spontaneity from adults; the fact that people want to see improvisers struggle, rather than fluidly succeed; aiming for originality is foolish- instead aim for spontaneity; accepting and blocking (and why scenes should include both); that most stories about the interruption ...more
Dec 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. I plan to reread it.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First 2 sections on status and spontaneity are amazing. Skipped masks and trance.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book has insights which are far beyond improvisation. Loved the section on status games and narrative skills.
Karen Chung
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jeremy Zhang
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended by a friend. Very very insightful book on the nuances of human interactions and reading people. Loved the first three sections (status, spontaneity, and narrative skills). I believe skills developed in improvisation and theatre have a lot of cross-functional impact in the business and social sphere.
Chris March
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sherrie Gingery
Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most enlightening thing I've ever read on the nature of spontaneity, creativity and improvisation. A huge source of inspiration for performers, teachers and creators. ...more
Jonathan Sundqvist
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: communication
The first 100 pages are really good and very insightful. The chapters about mask work are less interesting, but still quite interesting.
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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 ...more

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