Keith Johnstone and improvisation

In the fifties in the UK, Keith Johnstone found himself uninspired by the UK school system.  He enjoyed primary school but found secondary school really boring.

Keith in London, 2007

As a young adult he surprisingly became a teacher although he admits he doesn’t know how that happened. However poor his own schooling had been, Johnstone insisted he would make things fun for his pupils, and he believed deeply that everyone could be creative.

He build cardboard tunnels into classrooms, he let his pupils play freely on piano, he typed out the children’s stories while they shouted out the words.

Although other staff and the head didn’t like his approach, he was given a glowing report by the school inspector.

Keith went on to work as a scriptreader at The Royal Court where he began to develop creative ways of telling stories through acting techniques that soon became known as improvisation.

From there, and since the publication of his book ‘Impro’, he has been teaching improvisation classes around the world.

Keith’s exercises encourage actors to play, and create strong dramatic scenes with the audience very much in mind.

His exercises have evolved into performances of improvisation like Theatresports, Micetro and Lifegame. Improvisation theatre can be found in most countries now, popularised by shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Not only are they effective as performance techniques and for creating drama, they are very good for the mind, body and creativity.

To truly be a great improviser you must enter into an open state of mind, you must listen and react to your teammates, you must take risks, suggest new ideas and actions and solve problems, all of which are valuable in everyday life.

When teenagers would ask Keith what they were going to learn in his classes, he would say he could teach them to pick up girls. By allowing the boys to make mistakes in safe roleplay, they would gradually learn what did and didn’t work for romance.

In Johnstone’s improv style, the important thing is storytelling. Being funny isn’t the main point – but often, when a story is truthful and characters are desperate to get out of difficult situations, we find it funny.

I regularly attend improvisation classes and run an improvisation group. I find it’s not only playful, but scary and inspirational. After an impro class I am full of ideas and fun.

So if you want to have a lot of fun and improve your creativity, try taking an improvisation class.

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