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Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up Hardcover – May 3, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Drama teacher turned self-help advisor Madson learned the hard way that playing by the rules doesn't always mean you win-despite doing all the right things, she was denied tenure in the job of her dreams. The acting teacher learned to jettison the script and improvise her life-and she ended up teaching at a much better university: Stanford. If you improvise, she says, you "will make more mistakes" but you'll also "laugh more often, and have some adventures." Here she offers 13 maxims to guide the fledgling improviser. "Say yes" with the ecstasy of Molly Bloom: it will open up new worlds. "Don't prepare": in focusing on the future, you might miss the present. "Start anywhere": take any entry into a problem, and once you get inside you'll have a better perspective. Madson offers little exercises drawn from improv acting that are easy and eye-opening, such as look at a familiar environment and notice something new in it. Or make a list of important places in your life, put down the book and just go to one of them. Madson's prose radiates the joy of living, the pleasure she has found in taking things as they come. Most self-help books offer a forced sense of inspiration; Madson is genuinely inspiring. "Say yes" to this book.
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“A marvelous guide to freedom and delight. Improv has become a wisdom tradition of its own and Patricia shows how its lessons can bring out the best in us.” —John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros

“Patricia Ryan Madson is one of Stanford’s truly inspired teachers; she has changed the lives of thousands of students over the past twenty-eight years. In her smiling book, Improv Wisdom, she reminds us that being alive is like riding a bicycle—we always feel a little off-balance and insecure, but ‘in the act of balancing we come alive.’ She makes you want to get up and do something—try it out, make mistakes, laugh, play, and try it again.” —Charles Junkerman, Associate Provost and Dean of Continuing Studies, Stanford University

“Reading even just a few pages of Patricia Madson’s book might change your life forever. That’s what has happened to me. These pages are chock-full of wisdom, clarity, and helpful techniques on enhancing spontaneity in everyday life. Read this book—you will be glad and so will everyone else in your life.” —Nina Wise, author of A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life

“I have witnessed Patricia Madson’s magic touch in both her classes and her performances. Her students often describe her as a ‘goddess,’ but that may be an understatement. I rejoice that her wisdom is now available to new audiences.” —Philip G. Zimbardo, author of Psychology and Life and Shyness

“The premise of Patricia Madson’s book is astonishing: to practice the basic rules of improvisational theater is to walk a path toward a spiritually satisfying life. Her underlying claim is simple and sound: if you are willing to be completely present, making full use of whatever happens, you will find goodness in any situation. This is a lucid, wise, and free-spirited book.” —Norman Fischer, founder and teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bell Tower; 1 edition (May 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400081882
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400081882
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

NEWS FLASH: The Audiobook of IMPROV WISDOM is now available for sale on Amazon and I am the reader of the book. So you can hear my voice sharing the Maxims and telling stories. Check out the sample.

I am an Emerita of Stanford University where I taught for three decades in the Drama Department. I founded the Stanford Improvisors in 1991, and I have spent a happy lifetime leading classes, seminars and workshops that teach the ease of the creative process and the magic of improvising. I currently teach for the Esalen Insitute and for Stanford's Continuing Studies. My book, IMPROV WISDOM: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up was published in 2005 by Bell Tower Books, a Random House publication. I design workshops and keynote presentations for organizations worldwide. My current passion is plein air watercolor painting.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Ryan on March 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was recommended to me by a friend who's an improv genius, but I was taken with how broad the Improv Wisdom maxims are to everyone's life.

Ms. Madson organizes the book into 13 maxims, each given its own chapter. Samples include: #1: say yes; #2: don't prepare; #3: show up. Sounds simple, right? Although Ms. Madson writes in a tight, easy-to-abosrb style, she also looks you dead in the eye. For example, for people (like me) who just can't remember people's names, she calls it laziness. If you can't remember someone's name, she says you're breaking maxim #3. She doesn't stop there - she gives real improv exercises to build strengths in each maxim. (I tried her approach at the dog park yesterday when I met some new dogs - and their parents - and it worked!)

Improv Wisdom is my favorite new book for how to lead a creative, full life. (Move over, Stephen Covey!) I'm buying copies for everyone I care about and strongly recommend it to anyone who needs a refresher course for how to show up to their own life.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Jane Helm on July 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've had Patricia Ryan Madson's Improv Wisdom for a few months now. I keep re-reading parts and also buying additional copies for friends. It's enjoyable to read, but more enjoyable to use. My favorite chapter is entitled "Be Average," which sounds terrible (probably VERY terrible to the Stanford students who first experienced Madson's ideas) but it's freed me to write and do other things that waiting for perfection would have blocked. Moreover, the stress-reduction that goes with the principle improves the odds of being much better than average. It's a little book. Take it with you on your next trip.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on February 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In a world where management gurus and self-help coaches profess the necessity of intricate planning, Ms. Madson's book presents a refreshing counterpoint. As someone once said - Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. Approaching life from an improv angle, making it up, with others, as you go along, is a liberating notion. Being open to the present moment and what it brings, accepting reality and not feeling constant disappointment at the way things should be, can only result in a calmer, and perhaps paradoxically, more productive life. I highly recomend this book for anyone who feels deficient for not owning a planner the size of the Oxford dictionary, or like me, who has bought at least four planners over the last decade, and have made enough entries to fill at most one letter-size sheet.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Diane Rachel on July 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I found practical solutions to life-long problems, fun and inspirational ways to improve my talents and a twist of perspective on life that truly uses life's mistakes and challenges as fuel for even greater adventures. Forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, gratitude, action, attention, focus, productivity and let's not forget joy; all in a little book that's a seemingly easy read but packs a huge punch!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jessica on June 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am one of Patricia's students at Stanford, and I am not embarrassed to say that her class really did change my life. I never thought that a drama teacher would be able to have such a huge impact on me.

All of Patricia's best anecdotes, advice and words of wisdom are in this book. Read it if you're a drama student (it's amazing how much your acting will improve if you incorporate improv into your craft), but definitely read it if you're not. This book isn't so much about improv as it is how to lead your life. Trust me, if you follow Patricia's advise, your life will improve for the better. Really.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Avid Amazon Customer on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Improv Wisdom" assures us that we're not alone with our worries or problems while challenging us to pay attention and take action to live meaningful lives with a glad heart. Beautifully written, this refreshing book is a sincere invitation to stop obsessing about "what ifs" and outcomes and to focus in the present on our purpose, where we are, who we're with and -- most importantly -- what we're doing. The maxims Patricia Ryan Madson puts forward are simple, logical and authentic -- and truly helpful to anyone who feels overwhelmed at times by commitments at work, at home or by life in general. Unlike so many other "self-help" authors, Madson manages to balance warmth and compassion with a steadfast refusal to guarantee easy results (or even any results) from following her counsel. You may not know what lies ahead, but you will definitely have a much more interesting time getting there if you take this book to heart.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brainsparkles on December 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been carrying this small book everywhere I go for over a year now. I open it to any old page, and there I discover exactly what I need to read right then, right at that time and place. Is this magical? Perhaps.

It seems, though, that every sentence Patricia Madson writes is a psychological landmine: read it, and it trips a kind of explosion in one's mind. Is this book about acting? I would say that it is, in that acting on a stage is not so different from fretting and strutting upon the stage of life(did I just totally mash that Shakespeare reference? Oh, well.) What has been most useful to me so far is her comments on traversing the rocky road of life with the attitude that one might try approaching the inevitable rough parts of life in an improvisational manner: the open mind invites new experience instead of building a wall of anxiety against it. Actor and teacher Madson has certainly developed a wisdom that she communicates in a deceptively simple style, and I find every dip into the pages of IMPROV: WISDOM an expansion of my own thoughts about my spiritual journey, my work in psychotherapy, and my interest in performing. I would recommend this book to anyone who is bored with life, individuals who always open Door #1 and may find some surprises behind Doors # 2,3,4,5,6.....; writers, actors, therapists, politicians, professors, religious leaders, and everyone else, really.
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