Keith Johnstone is the inventor of theatresports and in Impro for Storytellers, he writes about the importance of stories in improvisational theatre. He argues, that without interesting storylines impro simply degenerates into a loose collection of gags and becomes a lot less interesting.
The funny thing is that I bought this book thinking it was about storytelling, when its focus is actually on impro theatre, but I still enjoyed reading it and I learned a lot from it.
In impro you’re on a stage with no script and no idea what’s going to happen next. You’re totally reliant on your co-players and an audience is watching your every move. You can either open yourself to these circumstances and be present and aware of your co-players and surroundings or you can build up a number of defenses and try to play it safe.
Does that remind you of anything? It’s life! That’s exactly what life is like, and that makes impro an excellent laboratory for learning skills and tools that you can use in “real life” because in impro you have immediate feedback from the audience (and in theatresports also from the judges).
The book mentions many exercises that Keith Johnstone uses in his workshops, and I’m itching to try some of them out soon. Most of the exercises are designed to bring your awareness to here and now. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say in a minute – when a minute has passed, the scene may be going in a totally different direction. Focus on what’s happening right now with you, your co-players and the audience. Being present here and now is a skill that we’re rapidly losing. An yet it’s a vital skill for being alive and happy, and one that’s an integral part of many spiritual and psychological practices.
I believe that there is a lot to be learned from impro theatre and even if you don’t actually perform in front of others, many of the exercises have a lot to offer. And this book is certainly a good place to start.