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Not a theatre book, but a teacher's manifesto
on June 19, 2001
Keith Johnstone's book has influenced countless acting classes. Many artists who have not yet heard of this book are doing exercises based on his experiments in England with actors using improvisation to discover status operations within a scene, narrative structure, and the importance of structure and process over "content" (a sticking point for the improvisator, the public speaker, and everyone who has ever said, 'I can't think of anything.') It also provides one of the best short introductions to mask work around. So it might seem like an indispensable theatre book. And it is that. Indispensable.
Yet read Johnstone's first chapter - a memoir of his early teaching career, in which he discovered the process by which children learn to be uncreative as a tragic coping skill. This is not a theatre book. Theatre classes were the arena, but this is a book about teaching! This is about opening doors that have been slammed shut, and acquainting people with the creativity and exuberance that is everybody's birthright. The exercises, and analyses of his students' work with improvisation, along with Johnstone's unflagging faith in every person's imagination, have much to show us even on repeated readings and practice.