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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2006
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 52 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2005
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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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 24, 2006
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 19 people found the following review helpful
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2005
Improv Wisdom is a list of life skills that are inspiring yet comfortable, like the author's favorite, fleece pajamas. Patricia Ryan Madson has spent her life teaching theater and exploring cultures and philosophies and she brings her observations, personal stories and the experiences of her students together in a book that is an easy, entertaining read. So often, self help books are overwhelming and academic publications daunting. Improv Wisdom is motivating and I find myself revisiting the chapters like mantras - always with a smile. I can't wait to give it as a gift to the people who make up the Improv of my life.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2011
This is a book about applying the philosophies and techniques of improv to other aspects of your life. Madson taught an improv class at Stanford University for many years. In the final chapter of this book, she jokes about the irony that it took her 20 years to write a book about acting in the moment and "just doing." She says she struggled with what form this book should take. Should it be a practical guide? A self-help book? Parts of this book existed in notebooks, on 5-inch floppies, 3-inch floppies, zip drives and thumb drives. But that's the thing about wisdom--it's timeless, right? And while a lot of titles have "wisdom" in them,, the weight of those 20 years have helped pack big ideas and true wisdom into this slim book.

What attracted me to it originally was its application to creative thinking. I usually work as a member of a creative team, in which the improv dynamic--building on one another's ideas, I say "what if...?" and you say "yes and..."--is critical for success. The first chapter of this book is called "Say yes." On the first page, I have highlighted "Yes glues us together...Yes expands your world."

Throughout this book, I've highlighted little gems like this on about every other page. They're great reminders for people who have been working creatively for years, and great articulations of some of the fundamentals that we often take for granted. Even reading through the chapter titles--the maxims, as they're called in the book--I find myself nodding: say yes * don't prepare * just show up * start anywhere * be average * pay attention * face the facts * stay on course * wake up to the gifts * make mistakes, please * act now * take care of each other * enjoy the ride.

Some of these sound counterintuitive ("be average" means you don't have to be wacky to be funny--comedy starts with the everyday) and some actually are counterintuitive (both "don't prepare" and "make mistake, please" are about knocking down our fear of failure barriers by failing often and spectacularly, if possible).

I have a natural gag reflex to anything that even starts to feel self-helpy, and there are a few parts of this book that wanted to be that. But the advice was usually so spot on and the hippy-dippy held in check that I managed to keep my lunch in. Actually, it was really quite good. The life stuff, but even more so the stuff that relates to creative thinking, working, and working as a team. I plan to pass a lot of this wisdom onto my advertising students. Maybe they'll even think I'm a little wise.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2005
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
on May 10, 2005
"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
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
You're looking for something you can't quite name, the answer to a question you can't quite articulate.

Something else shows up.

It's on a different subject altogether.

And yet, for no apparent reason, it tells you what you needed to know.

"Improv Wisdom" is like that. I have no interest in improvisational theater. I doubt you do. But if you step back just a bit --- if you look at your life like a play that you improvise at almost every moment --- these 148 pages offer more in the way of genuine self-help advice than anything Dr. Phil can direct you to.

"Don't prepare, just show up." That's the book's subtitle and its message. Its radical message, because we have been so trained to plan and script and PowerPoint that the last thing to occur to us is just to dive in and make it up as we go along.

Patricia Ryan Madson, a professor emerta at Stanford University, used to be just like us. She had a career path. She did things that were "good" for advancement. She won awards. She got her dream teaching job.

Then her life fell apart. Her teaching "lacked intellectual distinction." She didn't get tenure.

How could this be? She'd been a good girl, she'd done everything right. Except, perhaps, one thing: She'd never done anything for its own sake, never taken a detour for the fun of it, never showed she was different from all the middle-level talents who grind out second-tier careers.

Patricia Ryan Madson got the message. She took up drumming, just because. Spent summers dancing and traveling. Studied Eastern religion. And, two years later, was asked to head Stanford's undergraduate acting program. She spent the rest of her career there, winning the university's highest teaching prize --- though she might say the crowning achievement of her decades in Palo Alto was the founding of a theatrical group, the Stanford Improvisers.

Improvising, she emphasizes, has "nothing to do with wit, glibness or comic ability." It is simply about saying "yes" to what is in front of you. And, therefore, you can learn how to do it --- how to listen, plan just enough, follow the plan but not religiously, and then trust yourself to get to a good place through improvisation.

It all starts with "yes." Are you prepared? No? Worry not. You're fine. Indeed, spend a day without planning --- see if it ends badly. Nervous about being out on a limb? Good! The only time you should really feel confident is after you've succeeded. Worried that you won't succeed? Lower the bar. Mistakes? They're often "results that we had not planned."

Along the way, Madson offers advice that seems to have nothing to do with theater or life. "Make a point of thanking people for thankless jobs." Write a thank-you note every day. Be a guardian angel to one person. Why? So you can be more awake, more attentive, more in the stream of life.

Since I finished this book, I've been living more with two hands, open ears and a relaxed mouth. I may not be making immediate progress on a long piece of writing, but I sure am taking more notes and writing more random paragraphs. I'm noticing who listens and who doesn't, and seeing how the people who don't hear what's actually said are blocking their own progress. And I'm feeling more pain --- other people radiate it, and maybe I do too --- but also experiencing more joy. In a word: I'm more alive.

This book alerted me to a better way just when I needed to hear it.

Maybe it's also the right time for you to get interested in improvisational theater.
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