Customer Reviews: Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Drama and Performance Studies)
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It is important to realize, before purchasing "Improvisation for the Theater," that it will not teach you the silly games and clownish humor you see on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Funny though many people find that show, it bears only a shirt-tail relationship to improvisation as Viola Spolin conceived of the concept.

First of all, she probably would have been horrified to discover that many people now regard improvisation and comedy synonymous. In her system, improvisation could have been comedic, tragic, surrealistic, or anything in between. The label hung on the performance was secondary to its quality, consistency, and depth.

In this, Spolin's classic textbook (newly updated and expanded by her son and daughter-in-law, her intellectual executors and heirs), she lays down the ins and outs of improvisation for performance. Activities listed in this book are designed to conduct a full workshop for improvisational actors. There are games listed for absolute beginners, orienting them to the demands of the stage, so there is no false expectation of prior experience. The games, moreover, are almost all adaptable to all ages, so a children's workshop won't feel you're going over their heads, and an adult workshop won't feel they're being condescended to.

The chapters are arranged in the sequence Spolin felt would be most efficient in creating a fully-dimensional improv show that would capture audience attention and be satisfying for all involved. Not everyone will agree that this is the best sequence, and with a little time and consideration, the games can be reordered to suit an individual director's tastes. However, this should be undertaken with care -- many people have used this workshop pattern very effectively for over forty years with great success and enjoyment.

The games, moreover, can be used individually, both in classrooms and in a theatrical directing environment. Many of the games teach important skills regarding vocal technique, character-motivated action, attention to environmental detail, and poise. Even when working with experienced actors, I have found many of these games useful in developing wholly realized characters and environments, and the group nature of the work is key in creating unity among cast members and ensuring everybody is playing off the same rules.

I have worked with scarcely an acting coach or director who has not, at some point, used some activity from this book to achieve some goal. By having actors participate in these activities, the whole production is moved toward a unified and consistent goal, usually one that cannot be achieved by mere talking and finger-pointing. Complex variations of these games are used by improvisational troupes throughout the world, and Spolin's teachings have really been the benchmark for theatrical education and directing for nearly half a century now.

No actor who wants to grow in skill, no acting teacher who wants to guide students toward higher ability, no director who wants to achieve results quickly and well, should ever be without this book. It is the measure of greatness in modern theatre.
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on June 10, 2000
For serious students and teachers this is the basic bible of improvisation. It gives a strong, basic philosophy of improv for both teachers and actors. It contains methods, games and a variety of techniques to develop oneself both as a teacher & and actor. Step-by-step approaches are offered as well as overviews for ones own creativity. The book is well-organized, too so that the teacher/actor can easily access a favorite warm-up,beginning game or advanced exercise. Not a book for skimming! One must study this book, that is if you truly love the theatre!
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on May 1, 2001
Obviously, it would be optimal if one could work in a workshop that put this book up on its feet. That way the teacher/director could experience many of these games and technique building excersises first hand, thereby making them even more vibrant and clear.
That said, this third edition is extremely practical, detailed and very clearly written as it lays out hundreds of excersises which build not only acting technique, but group integrity as well. Spolin was a gifted teacher and director and her nearly seventy years of experience in the theatre pays great dividends to all who dare to follow in her footsteps,
Even more helpful than the vast multitude of improvisational activities is her advice to the director of the scripted play. Like William Ball's A Sense of Direction (also a must have!) she stresses the importance of building the positive environment and details specific strategies on how to make it happen.
This is a phenomenal resource for all teachers, students, actors and directors.
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on September 23, 2002
Not only useful for the "serious adult" improv artist--as a drama teacher who works with underprivileged kids I find this the best book out there for helping them develop a sense of "mastery" on stage, a drama more alive to them than memorizing lines. Recommended for anyone who works with young actors!
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on December 18, 2014
The master text for improvisation. I had the pleasure of meeting Spolin years ago, and working on a couple games with her. She was brilliant in her understanding of the human soul. Most people do not realize these exercises were originally intended, not for actors, but for orphans and troubled children. The heart of Viola Spolin comes through in this excellent work. Highly recommended.
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on July 2, 2014
If Viola Spolin is the Grandma Moses of Improv, this is its Bible. If you own this book, Truth in Comedy by Del Close and Chana Halpern as well as the long awaited and recently published UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh: you've pretty much got your literature covered in the area of improvisation for stage, film and television, including short form and long form, i. e. the Harold. Read these books, any and/or all of them, form a casual or professional improv group and start performing. Each is these books has excersizes and theater games that will help and inspire any professional or aspiring actor, writer, director, musician, comedian and basically any human being who communicates with other life forms of any kind.

The wealth of knowledge available in this book and the others mentioned above are priceless for creative person, especially those working in theater, film and television.

Buy this book and the other two, read them and use what you learn from them, your life will never be the same.

Here's a beautiful quote from the book:

"Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become 'stage-worthy.' We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything...If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach. 'Talent' or 'lack of talent' have little to do with it." - Viola Spolin
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on December 23, 2012
If you are doing any play directing no matter what level you will find this book indispensable. Spolin's work is a must have for any director of theatre. Her games and exercises draw our the performance directors are looking for from their actors. Not only that, but her methods a simply fun. This book helps you make theatre fun for your actors young and old alike.
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on March 25, 2015
This is an important book. The first 50 pages or so should be read by any improviser. The rest of the book is a huge list of games. This book made me a better improviser and a better human being. Totally worth it.
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on December 8, 2010
Great book for more advanced drama students. I bought this book to use with my middle school drama classes. This is my first year teaching drama and I was told that this was the "Bible" of drama instruction books. While it is a great resource, I find alot of the concepts to be too complex and higher-level thinking than many middle schoolers can comprehend. I've had to simplify them alot. I've had little training but have taught MS choir for the last 4 years and have been the vocal coach for 2 highschool productions: Fiddler and Music Man. Viola does a great job telling the teacher what to say when the students are performing; "side-coaching" she calls it. That has really helped me know what to tell the students so I don't look like a complete idiot. It's really cool to have a Middle School Drama program (2 classes: 7th and 8th grade) but a clearer step-by-step guide would really help me out.
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on December 2, 2015
I love this book. Spolin is a great read for those in the theatre industry. If your a teacher in the arts or a student I recommend this book. It's filled with activities and ideas for the theatre classroom.
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