Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre
by Keith Johnstone
This book has affected me in countless ways. Some quotes below.
“Imagination is as effortless as perception, unless we think it might be ‘wrong’, which is what our education encourages us to believe.”
“At school any spontaneous act was likely to get me into trouble. I learned never to act on impulse, and that whatever came into my mind first should be rejected in favour of better ideas. I learned that my imagination wasn’t ‘good’ enough. I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal. The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal.”
“Once you learn to accept offers, then accidents can no longer interrupt the action. […] This attitude makes for something really amazing in the theater. The actor who will accept anything that happens seems supernatural; it’s the most marvelous thing about improvisation: you are suddenly in contact with people who are unbounded, whose imagination seems to function without limit.”
“None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public.”
Keith Johnstone’s involvement with the theatre began when George Devine and Tony Richardson, artistic directors of the Royal Court Theatre, commissioned a play from him. This was in 1956. A few years later he was himself Associate Artistic Director, working as a play-reader and director, in particular helping to run the Writers’ Group. The improvisatory techniques and exercises evolved there to foster spontaneity and narrative skills were developed further in the actors’ studio then in demonstrations to schools and colleges and ultimately in the founding of a company of performers, called The Theatre Machine.
Divided into four sections, ‘Status’, ‘Spontaneity’, ‘Narrative Skills’, and ‘Masks and Trance’, arranged more or less in the order a group might approach them, the book sets out the specific techniques and exercises which Johnstone has himself found most useful and most stimulating. The result is both an ideas book and a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity.