Monday, August 02, 2010

Impro, Keith Johnstone

Keith Johstone's Impro purports to explain how to teach people how to do theatrical improvisation. The author has apparently had a fairly significant effect on the way that actors think about improvisation, but while there's some loose theorizing here, Johnstone presents nothing but personal experience to back it up. It works for him, and that ought to be good enough for you.

Johnstone's main claim is that the appearance of versimilitude that theater needs is mostly a matter of controlling the appearance of status distinctions between characters. He teaches his students via a variety of games and exercises in which they learn to carefully control status both by verbal responses and minor postural tweaks. Part of the trick (he claims) to getting the aspiring thespians to understand what they're trying to achieve is to be able to appear either slightly above or slightly below (on command) another character. Getting the audience to believe that one character is significantly more highly placed than another is easy, but there's no tension in that. In order to get both the appearance of reality, and dynamic intensity, Johnstone wants status distinctions to be slight, and constantly varying.

The last section of the book covers exercises with the actors wearing masks. Johnstone seems to believe that hiding behind a mask has almost mystical properties. This section was very unconvincing to me. The rest was only moderately interesting.

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