on October 23, 2002
Or, thanks to the new and brilliant approaches of Halpern and Johnstone, The Old Testament of Improv.
At any rate Viola Spolin influenced improv more than any other human being. She was the first, the pioneer. Her son, Paul Sills, founded both The Compass and Second City. He carries on her work.
Easily 90+% of all improv exercises taught in American universities are derived from her. And most mediocre books on ipmrov are small samplings of re-cycled Spolin exercises, without her focus.
Which is a nice way to segway into telling the reader that even 'The Bible' is bound to disappoint if one misses the theme of Spolin's thought.
Without it one simply gets a collection of 'games' that are ponderously cross referenced. (And a big so what.) It'll gather dust on the bookshelf as a 'reference work'
Here's a secret: Spolin was far less concerned with the comedy audience suggestion improv theater ( Second City notwithstanding.) Her main concern was training actors.
(Her influence has been vastly underestimated, e.g; Meisner trained actors should check out her "Preocupation A" exercise. You'll get deja vu. And Spolin came first.)
She took one of Stanislavsky's best idea, "Concentration of Attention" and ran with it. She created the credo of POC (point of concentration) and 'sidecoached' the players into weaving magic . . .
on April 7, 2002
It is important to realize, before purchasing "Improvisation for the Theater," that it will not teach you the silly games and clownish humor you see on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Funny though many people find that show, it bears only a shirt-tail relationship to improvisation as Viola Spolin conceived of the concept.
First of all, she probably would have been horrified to discover that many people now regard improvisation and comedy synonymous. In her system, improvisation could have been comedic, tragic, surrealistic, or anything in between. The label hung on the performance was secondary to its quality, consistency, and depth.
In this, Spolin's classic textbook (newly updated and expanded by her son and daughter-in-law, her intellectual executors and heirs), she lays down the ins and outs of improvisation for performance. Activities listed in this book are designed to conduct a full workshop for improvisational actors. There are games listed for absolute beginners, orienting them to the demands of the stage, so there is no false expectation of prior experience. The games, moreover, are almost all adaptable to all ages, so a children's workshop won't feel you're going over their heads, and an adult workshop won't feel they're being condescended to.
The chapters are arranged in the sequence Spolin felt would be most efficient in creating a fully-dimensional improve show that would capture audience attention and be satisfying for all involved. Not everyone will agree that this is the best sequence, and with a little time and consideration, the games can be reordered to suit an individual director's tastes. However, this should be undertaken with care -- many people have used this workshop pattern very effectively for over forty years with great success and enjoyment.
The games, moreover, can be used individually, both in classrooms and in a theatrical directing environment. Many of the games teach important skills regarding vocal technique, character-motivated action, attention to environmental detail, and poise. Even when working with experienced actors, I have found many of these games useful in developing wholly realized characters and environments, and the group nature of the work is key in creating unity among cast members and ensuring everybody is playing off the same rules.
I have worked with scarcely an acting coach or director who has not, at some point, used some activity from this book to achieve some goal. By having actors participate in these activities, the whole production is moved toward a unified and consistent goal, usually one that cannot be achieved by mere talking and finger-pointing. Complex variations of these games are used by improvisational troupes throughout the world, and Spolin's teachings have really been the benchmark for theatrical education and directing for nearly half a century now.
No actor who wants to grow in skill, no acting teacher who wants to guide students toward higher ability, no director who wants to achieve results quickly and well, should ever be without this book. It is the measure of greatness in modern theatre.
on May 1, 2001
Obviously, it would be optimal if one could work in a workshop that put this book up on its feet. That way the teacher/director could experience many of these games and technique building excersises first hand, thereby making them even more vibrant and clear.
That said, this third edition is extremely practical, detailed and very clearly written as it lays out hundreds of excersises which build not only acting technique, but group integrity as well. Spolin was a gifted teacher and director and her nearly seventy years of experience in the theatre pays great dividends to all who dare to follow in her footsteps,
Even more helpful than the vast multitude of improvisational activities is her advice to the director of the scripted play. Like William Ball's A Sense of Direction (also a must have!) she stresses the importance of building the positive environment and details specific strategies on how to make it happen.
This is a phenomenal resource for all teachers, students, actors and directors.
on June 10, 2000
For serious students and teachers this is the basic bible of improvisation. It gives a strong, basic philosophy of improv for both teachers and actors. It contains methods, games and a variety of techniques to develop oneself both as a teacher & and actor. Step-by-step approaches are offered as well as overviews for ones own creativity. The book is well-organized, too so that the teacher/actor can easily access a favorite warm-up,beginning game or advanced exercise. Not a book for skimming! One must study this book, that is if you truly love the theatre!