IMPRO: IMPROVISATION AND THE Theatre: Keith Johnstone.
Republished 2007: RRP 9.99.
ISBN: 978-0-7136-8701-9: 9 780713 687019.
Review: Rod Dungate, August 2007.
(A link to the book in Amazon is at the end of the review.)
If you don’t have this book – get it quick.
Methuen Drama reprints Johnstone’s invigorating book this year with a new, modern cover design. Reading it again, I find it impossible to believe it was first published in 1979 – it’s nearly 30 years old!
Johnstone’s insights are as powerfully clear as ever and the way he writes loses none of its freshness nor vitality. Some of the references he makes may seem, not dated, but of the past now – his references to his work at the Royal Court theatre for instance; however, the examples he uses from his work and from his students’ work feel as if they are from yesterday. It’s this immediacy which gives the book and Johnstone’s ideas their power.
He divides his book into four main sections – status, spontaneity, narrative skills, masks and trance. In each section he fills out his ideas and theories and offers many examples of putting them into practice. The book is a must, therefore, for teachers, actors, directors and students alike. It’s a treasure trove of ideas and methods; it will ease and enrich work and studies. What I particularly like is Johnstone’s advice, along the way, on good teaching per se. He speaks in the Status section of one of his own skilled teachers, for instance; ‘The third was a status expert, raising and lowering his status with great skill. . . The third teacher could cope easily with any situation by changing his status first.’
Most of us will be aware of the improvisation principles of ‘offer / accept / block’; in Johnstone’s ideas and examples this section is thrilling – the basic ideas may be standard now but Johnstone’s work retains the power to surprise and inspire, to refresh and renew our own practices.
In the Narrative section both the Automatic Writing and Dreams parts have the same power to grab you as a good novel. And for any writers reading this review these sections will be particularly valuable.
This is an invigorating read. Johnstone writes with a passion undiminished by time. He makes assertions that often come over as challenges, I imagine him, even now, thrusting out his jaw and daring us to disagree. Frankly, I’ve no intention of disagreeing (well, not often, anyway); I just want to go and try them out – as teacher or student, I don’t mind.
Here’s the Amazon link: