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4.8 out of 5 stars23
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2002
I suggest that you follow Amazon's recommendation and buy it with the acompanying sequel "Impro for Storytellers"
Hmm...Let's see:
Once upon a time there was a brilliant little boy who lived in an alternative universe so he had mercifully never heard of Viola Spolin.
Therefore instead of following standard improv exercises such as 'mirror' or 'tug of war on the imaginary rope' He began creating his own.
These wre not dependant on the Spolin credo of agreeing on the 'Who, What, When and Where'. Rather our young hero was more fascinated by 'Why?' or in plainer English, 'Why should either the audience or the actors give a (expletive deleted) about this improv exercise? What's its value and moreover, could it apply to acting in general?
Consequently through experimentation, a contrary kind of courage ('My acting teachers told me never to make faces as it was untruthful, so I mugged whenever I could') and a curious interest in the transformative power of Mask work--which was out of fashion in The West since the fall of Athens--arrived at some startingly new discoveries for character work as well as Improv.
He then moved to Canada, opened his own troupe, and the rest, as they say is history . . .
Let's see, did I leave anything out? Oh Yes, a practical piece of advice and a cryptic remark to end this review:
1. If the library is burning and you have a choice of saving Stanislavski's trilogy or these two books, save Johnstone's
2. Beware of Boris (to say nothing of Igor)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 1998
If you're in love with acting, then you'll be in love with this book. It's not one of those does and donts manuals, boring and technical, no it's full of life. Johnstone looks into your heart and will tell you about your blocks and fears and how to release them. His style is compelling and convincing and he won't shy away from making you feel bad once in a while, because he's telling the truth about acting. But it's not only about acting. reading this book you'll find out a lot about yourself and the way you behave/ act in life and to what effect you do it. The games he writes about can be played as such - namely games - with friends, or you can use them in school or in manager-tutoring (see the chapter about hirarchy) or as warm-up and instructional games before a rehearsal. The book will also broaden your mind and help you free your creativity, just by reading it! So it does all sorts of weird and wonderful things to you: Whatever you do in your life, this book will! ! make it better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 1996
Keith Johnstone is a maverick educator and theatrical innovator.
This book, first published in 1979, remains the most important book on improvisation written in English.
Johnstone divides the world of improvising into four categories:Spontenaity, Narrative, Status and Masks.
The stories about his own loss of creativity through the demands of public education set the frame for his illuminating description of what it takes to return us all to our creative selves.
This book is a must read for anyone involved in the creative process, for all teachers of the arts and anyone who has ever wondered where his creativity has gone.
Patricia Ryan,
Head of Acting
Stanford University
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2001
to study with Keith at the University of Calgary and to work with him at the Loose Moose Theater, and it had a tremendous impact on my life. His approach to education, to theater, to life all has a very liberating effect. This book carries a great deal of his spirit. It plants a terrific garden in your mind; some of the seeds sprout quickly while others may take a very long time to grow. This is a great book, for more reasons than I can say.
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on June 19, 2001
Keith Johnstone's book has influenced countless acting classes. Many artists who have not yet heard of this book are doing exercises based on his experiments in England with actors using improvisation to discover status operations within a scene, narrative structure, and the importance of structure and process over "content" (a sticking point for the improvisator, the public speaker, and everyone who has ever said, 'I can't think of anything.') It also provides one of the best short introductions to mask work around. So it might seem like an indispensable theatre book. And it is that. Indispensable.
Yet read Johnstone's first chapter - a memoir of his early teaching career, in which he discovered the process by which children learn to be uncreative as a tragic coping skill. This is not a theatre book. Theatre classes were the arena, but this is a book about teaching! This is about opening doors that have been slammed shut, and acquainting people with the creativity and exuberance that is everybody's birthright. The exercises, and analyses of his students' work with improvisation, along with Johnstone's unflagging faith in every person's imagination, have much to show us even on repeated readings and practice.
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on December 27, 2000
This book is the absolute bible of improv and acting. Keith Johnstone takes you step by step through his approach to teaching. The exercises he uses really work to get our intellects out of the way of our creativity.
The section on status is extremely useful. As a testament, I used some of them in my beginning improv class and amazing things happened. The class understood and became more aware of how we use status in every moment of our lives. Scenes immediately became more interesting and real. I look forward to the mask activities. The only negative comment I can make is that a few of the exercises were not clearly explained. Johnstone's descriptions, at times, assume previous knowledge of the game being described. This is a book every actor and improver should read. It will expand your creativity and improve your physical awareness onstage. Enjoy it!
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on June 16, 2009
After many years of being wary about Johnstone's book, I've finally given in. My initial response was that while other improv texts cover the "Hows" this one covered the "Whys".

This is a very enlightening book, but I feel it is too heavy for the everyday improvisor. A very large amount is focused on status. The subtleties of status are interesting to read about, but the text suffers from being TOO thorough. In addition, only about 1/20th of the final section (about Masks and Trance) were helpful to me.

All this aside, it is a very interesting book to discover what works, and more improtantly WHY. Knowing why something works will allow you to discover new ways of performing.

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on August 1, 1999
This book has established it self as the bible of creative thought for actors wishing to work in improvised forms - theatresport, commedia, etc. But it is really a philosophy lesson - the early chapters of the book provide a unique insight into the creative process of a man many consider a genius, which can have many useful applications for regular mortals. Opinions of the theatresport genre vary widely, and I am hardly a fan of what the form has become. But I find myself quoting from this book in all sorts of contexts - teaching actors, sculptors, and all sorts of people in need of inspiring words to open their creative resources. Read it. You will be a better person.
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on September 3, 1999
This book is actually 6 books in one. Apart from being one of the foremost authorities in the art of improv theater (1), it is 2)the finest example (I've found)of comic theory; 3)a sociology essay; 4)a concise guide to basic storytelling; 5) an amazingly progressive 'how to' teaching manual; and 6)a clear map into the creative process. There are likely other applications that I have yet to discover. This book is seminal, deep, very basic and belongs on my desk. I, too, quote from it all the time, and teach from it as well in my own improv classes. Done carefully, the lessons are fool-proof (or fool-proving!). Prepare for a paradigem shift!
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on May 17, 2000
This book is the one that I carry around with me and refer to constantly. It should be in the collection of every serious actor, writer and director - but almost anyone can benefit from the wisdom held within these pages. As we cross in to a new millenium with questions about "Where do we go from here?" it would be wise to begin the search within ourselves. This book, in a clear and humorous way, leads the reader on an engaging voyage of self-discovery and provides various keys to unlocking the long-dormant imagination. It's a treat!
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