Quality improv texts for beginners

While I con­tinue to mas­sage drafts of future posts, now seems like the per­fect time to dis­cuss some great books about impro­vi­sa­tional the­ater. After my Core Con­ver­sa­tion at SXSW, a few peo­ple approached me look­ing for some book titles. These are the three begin­ning texts I recommended:

  • Impro by Keith John­stone — I started with this book, thanks to a rec­om­men­da­tion from Andy Crouch, my level one instruc­tor at the Hide­out The­atre. Of all the books I’ve read since com­plet­ing Impro, noth­ing intro­duces impro­vi­sa­tion quite like Johnstone’s book. He makes a strong case for the cre­ative impor­tance of impro­vi­sa­tion and encour­ages a notion that any per­son can become a good impro­viser. John­stone offers sev­eral exam­ples of great games and exer­cises to whet a novice’s appetite, and also tack­les a few dense sub­jects for the wily vet­eran. Be warned: there’s a pretty crazy sec­tion about the use of masks to induce trances near the end of the book. It’s best to prob­a­bly avoid that sec­tion unless it gen­uinely appeals to you.
  • Truth in Com­edy by Charna Halpern and Del Close — Most Chicago-style improv the­aters encour­age start­ing with this book, which is a bit eas­ier of a read than Impro. Both books are short, but this one is ulti­mately focused on pro­duc­ing a spe­cific improv com­edy for­mat: The Harold. Halpern intro­duces con­cepts in a fun and engag­ing man­ner. She often col­ors them with anec­dotes involv­ing famous impro­vis­ers. After read­ing Truth in Com­edy, I had a more con­crete idea of the met­rics that define a good improv show. If you can only read two books about impro­vi­sa­tional the­ater, choose this and Impro.
  • Jill Bernard’s Small Cute Book of Improv — This one might be a bit harder to obtain, but it’s a great intro­duc­tory tool, and a book I enjoy read­ing through once every six months or so. Jill Bernard is an awe­some impro­viser and human being, and she has a really fun world­view. She finds unique ways to describe the same basic con­cepts oth­ers write about, which makes her book, when started, almost impos­si­ble to put down until fin­ished. Very short, but very sweet.
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