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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.
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on June 12, 2006
This was the first improv book that I ever read, and in retrospect I kind of wish I'd read something like Charna Halpern's TRUTH IN COMEDY or Mick Napier's IMPROVISE first. Those books will give you a better introduction to what most of us know of as group improvisation - the "Whose Line is it anyway" sort of thing. They'll give you a better framework to work with.

Keith Johnstone's book, on the other hand, is kind of like a complete rethinking of the Improv framework ... he writes about things I haven't read about anywhere else. And it really made me think about things in a different way.

First of all, I have to admit that the first couple of sections are pretty dry. I had to struggle to get through the section on "Status" ... I was thinking to myself, why did people give this BORING book a good review?? ... I did consider that maybe it's because the man is British (I think), and so the style of writing and the type of humor is a little different than I'm used to.

However, when he gets around to talking about the story/narrative, suddenly there is a flash of brilliance and it all started to make sense ... basically he talks about just letting GO of the things that are inhibiting us, how to stop listening to the voice that is telling us NO all the time ... and, I don't know, there's just something very profound in the way that he discusses it - little insights here and there that are just, for lack of a better word, very MEANINGUL.

For example, he says, of parents and teachers who scold their children, to keep their undesirable 'creativeness' under wraps: "... when these children grow up, and perhaps crack up, then they'll find themselves in therapy groups where they'll be encouraged to say all the things that the teacher would have forbidden during school." SO TRUE. This is what all the group therapies in Psych hospitals do - try to bring back the creativeness of the child. Why do we limit it in the first place??

Basically he stresses that EVERYONE has "weird" thoughts and an "artistic" nature that many of us have learned to say NO to, because they are forbidden or at least not encouraged. He says, "In one moment I knew that the valuing of men by their intelligence is crazy, that the peasants watching the night sky might feel more than I feel, that the man who dances might be superior to myself - word-bound and unable to dance. From then on I noticed how warped many people of great intelligence are, and I began to value people for their actions, rather than their thoughts."

And that's not EVEN getting into the last chapter, on MASKS - at first I was thinking, "OK, this is weird, why is there a huge chapter on MASKS in a book about IMPROV"? But the things he describes there are perhaps the most amazing, and disturbing, of the whole book. It almost makes me fear what I would "do" if I were to follow his instructions and suggestions ... but it's an excited sort of 'fear' - actually I wish I had readier access to instructors who are comfortable in these methods ... well, I can't really describe it much better than that.
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on May 13, 1996
Keith Johnstone is a maverick educator and theatrical innovator.
This book, first published in 1979, remains the most important book on improvisation written in English.
Johnstone divides the world of improvising into four categories:Spontenaity, Narrative, Status and Masks.
The stories about his own loss of creativity through the demands of public education set the frame for his illuminating description of what it takes to return us all to our creative selves.
This book is a must read for anyone involved in the creative process, for all teachers of the arts and anyone who has ever wondered where his creativity has gone.
Patricia Ryan,
Head of Acting
Stanford University
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on December 27, 2000
This book is the absolute bible of improv and acting. Keith Johnstone takes you step by step through his approach to teaching. The exercises he uses really work to get our intellects out of the way of our creativity.
The section on status is extremely useful. As a testament, I used some of them in my beginning improv class and amazing things happened. The class understood and became more aware of how we use status in every moment of our lives. Scenes immediately became more interesting and real. I look forward to the mask activities. The only negative comment I can make is that a few of the exercises were not clearly explained. Johnstone's descriptions, at times, assume previous knowledge of the game being described. This is a book every actor and improver should read. It will expand your creativity and improve your physical awareness onstage. Enjoy it!
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on January 20, 2006
I read most of this in one sitting! It's that engrossing. Mr. Johnstone's writing is very lucid and the anecdotes he provides are illuminating/concise/memorable. The best chapter was about narrative ... it taught me what a story is and isn't. That lesson alone is worth the price of this book.

I'm a novelist but found this to be a better stimulus than most of the "how to write fiction" manuals or writing classes out there. It describes a lot of games one could play to get the creative juices flowing. //Highly// recommend buying this if you're interested in any form of art or creativity.
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on April 26, 2002
I first came actoss this book when I first got interested in theatre in the early 80s in England, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. If theatre is a search for truth, then Johnstone exemplifies this with a fundamentalist's zeal.
Eschewing formula and "how to" guides, he presents improvisation on the stage as less of a craft and more a state of mind. His "bookending" of his practical advice with an angry account of his time spent as a teacher at the beginning of the book and his work on masks and trance in the last section underlines this.
Johnstone's book is a must for anybody wanting to improvise effectively on a stage, anyone wanting to use drama as a teaching or therapeutic tool, and an essential for anybody interested in the practical exploration of the subconscious mind and its workings.
It's a manual for creativity. It's an essential for an artist in any discipline. No: scrub the majority of that sentence. It's an essential, period.
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on September 3, 1999
This book is actually 6 books in one. Apart from being one of the foremost authorities in the art of improv theater (1), it is 2)the finest example (I've found)of comic theory; 3)a sociology essay; 4)a concise guide to basic storytelling; 5) an amazingly progressive 'how to' teaching manual; and 6)a clear map into the creative process. There are likely other applications that I have yet to discover. This book is seminal, deep, very basic and belongs on my desk. I, too, quote from it all the time, and teach from it as well in my own improv classes. Done carefully, the lessons are fool-proof (or fool-proving!). Prepare for a paradigem shift!
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on January 17, 2006
This book is not just for theater and improvisational acting. This is an enlightening and entertaining book on human social interaction. It's absolutely amazing. This book has not only helped me as writer and opened up my creative mind, it has helped me in every aspect of my social life and my interactions with others and how I view myself and them and how they view themselves and me. I cannot say enough good things about this book (without another run-on sentence).
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on October 27, 2010
Impro is not the definitive book on improvisation. Rather it is a collection of several observations that Johnstone makes regarding improv, story, masks and trance and status. Taken separately, each chapter is useful and can be applied in teaching, acting, storytelling or a variety of other performance based activities. Having said that, the writing is not the most fluid you will find and the chapters do not necessarily build upon themselves. Read this with the understanding that it may take more than one read and you may find other books written after this one that have been able to streamline his theories into a more coherent and available style.
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on February 19, 2014
First, the bad: for almost $30, I would expect a perfect Kindle edition. Not the case: a lot of weird spelling mistakes (probably made by the automatic conversion to the digital format). There's no excuse for a kindle ebook to cost that, much less a flawed version. Buy the physical version or borrow from someone / library.

Now, the content... It's a manifesto about education; it's a valuable lesson about human interaction and their status transactions; it's a book about how the 'stiff' conscious mind can harm our unconscious and our 'other selves'. Oh, and it's also a book about theather and improvisation.

I'm not involved in theather at all, I bought it because I like to study social dynamics and was not disappointed. You can 'look inside' the book here on Amazon - I skipped the 'guest' introduction and went straight to the author's words. If you like it, I recommend you read the whole book.
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