- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (January 7, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0878301178
- ISBN-13: 978-0878301171
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre 1st Edition
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""Impro ought to be required reading not only for theatre people generally but also for teachers, educators, and students of all kinds and persuassions. Readers of this book are not going to agree with everything in it; but if they are not challenged by it, if they do not ultimately succumb to its wisdom and whimsicality, they are in a very sad state indeed . . . .Johnstone seeks to liberate the imagination, to cultivate in the adult the creative power of the child . . . .Deserves to be widely read and tested in the classroom and rehearsal hall . . .Full of excellent good sense, actual observations and inspired assetions."
-"CHOICE: Books for College Libraries
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Top customer reviews
As an example of an interesting psychological insight, Johnstone discusses trance states. He strongly recommends using theatrical masks for improvisation, and his method for using them—though he references many earlier teachers with the same idea—involves using mirrors and skillful encouragement in order to take the student out of their normative self and get them to really experience being something else. But we are in fact always going in and out of trance states, he explains: it's impossible to always be "in control," and attempting that just leads to frustration and anxiety.
Another basic point is that imagination is a kind of natural state of the human mind. At one point he says explicitly that imagination is the "true self," which is if nothing else a fascinating hypothesis. His take on school education recalls other writers, especially John Holt, whom he cites several times: basically, modern education tends to discourage spontaneity and imagination.
Finally, his structural way of seeing theater, comedy, and human interaction in general, involves "status games," which makes a lot of sense. For example, he loves Beckett's way of playing with master-servant dynamics, one-upping, etc. He describes a method of teaching theater that involves getting people to understand their own habits of "status posturing," in order to assume other positions and act naturally. He says that long spontaneous improvisation sessions can grow out of just a simple configuration of status, and gives examples of such games.
Johnstone's outlook reminds me of life's strange beauty. Life is indeed much like improvisational theater, and it's great to learn from the insights of someone whose life work involves taking this seriously.
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.
And while this is indeed discussed in this book, there is so much more. While ostensibly a book on teaching techniques for better improv theater the reasoning and discussion on *why* this or that technique works is amazing.
The author talks about why most formal education stinks, why people who try too hard to be original often are anything but, how and why people befuddle their own imagination and inventiveness, and how one can get around all that.
Even if you never partake in any improv theater the book will give you interesting and useful ideas on how people (including you) perceive things, how people react to the unfamiliar and challenging, and how you can open yourself up to more rewarding experiences.