Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Under the Influence: A Traveling Library of Books that Inspire Artists

Artist: Ian Cheng

b.1984, Los Angeles, CA
Lives and works in New York, NY

Book Title: Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre
Author: Keith Johnstone

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 books and a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity.

Ian Cheng: “This book changed my life and work. Its subject is techniques of improvisation, but it’s really about ways to reengage the right hemisphere of the brain, the source of creatively and generative thought. Johnstone’s hypothesis is that adults are atrophied children who have had the imaginative demons suppressed through schooling and acculturation. It is artistic practices, like improv theater, that allow a person to deliberately exercise those demons back into healthy working life. Every paragraph is a pragmatic revelation. For example, countdown from 100 to o aloud while writing at the same time. You’ll be shocked by what your mind conjures onto the page when the left brain is fixed with a chore. Worth many reads over.”