Keith Johnstone is widely regarded as the father of modern improvisation and has been practicing and teaching his techniques for over 50 years. I doubt there is a theatre department in the world that doesn’t own a copy of his first book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. It was published in 1987 and has been reprinted, updated and translated many times, and is still in print. It is divided into four sections, ‘Status’, ‘Spontaneity’, ‘Narrative Skills’, and ‘Masks and Trance’ and is a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity. I would regard it as a must read for any theatre student.
The reason for me writing about him today is that Johnstone has just given an interview to Geoff Coleman which is being serialised by Actors & Performers. There are three parts, two of which have been published so far: Part 1 and Part 2 and worth a read by anyone interested in his work. It should be pointed out that he is 80 years old and still hard at work, having given the interview during a lunch break at one of his workshops, which he continues to give around the world.
His later book, Impro for Storytellers, is more specialized: a handbook for putting IMPRO (the first book) into practice, including detailed improvisation structures for performance and for rehearsal, and chapters on how to teach these games. It explores the way improvisation can be used as a way of generating narrative and using it to explore human relationships. Again well worth a read for a theatre student.