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Should be renamed the ultimate "impro" handbook
on February 27, 2013
A great book for beginning and advanced improvisors that explains exactly what the mechanics are of the authors' interpretation of the Keith Johnstone school of improvisation, and for that it deserves 5 stars. But the authors deeply misunderstand and arrogantly dismiss the entire Chicago/Del Close school of improv, under the guise of Keith and Del being equally valid methods.
At the beginning they explain that there are differences and that they'll give fair treatment to both, but then proceed for several hundred pages to denigrate the Chicago school for reasons that are invalid, and which shows they have limited understanding of what they're talking about. It's as if those parts were added late in the book's development when someone noticed that "ultimate" really only meant "half ultimate".
An example of bias can be found in the short interviews at the end where of all the wise words of Keith Johnstone (who they label "The Innovator") they could have used, they instead focus on Keith saying that Del's work doesn't particularly fit with his views on improvisation (my paraphrasing). It doesn't help that they then included an interview with the mildly dismissive Charna Halpern (who they by comparison label simply "The Keeper of the Harold"), with questions based on misunderstandings of Del's teachings.
To their credit they do try to explain some Chicago techniques, but there's a lot of misunderstandings. At one point they talk abut "game" being a core Harold concept, taking it from the book "Truth in Comedy", thus confusing the UCB which focusses on game as the core of a scene, and iO and other Chicago schools which consider it just another tool in your kitbag. Another misunderstanding is Chicago's "heightening", which they think is the same as the "absurdity curve",
The book should be renamed to "The Impro Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Improvising the Keith Johnstone way", so that anyone in the U.S. or learning the Chicago style, doesn't buy it thinking that it refers directly to them. There will be nuggets for the Chicago improvisor, but warning should be given that many of the techniques don't apply very well to Chicago style play.