We were chatting in the pub after a rehearsal of our new show (Imagine If You Will) and found that half the cast read loads of impro books, and half didn’t read any, with nobody really in the middle.
Obviously the best way to learn impro is just to do it, but in the gaps in-between (especially on the tube) I find it helpful to read about it too. I think especially if you’re running workshops or directing shows, you can always find a little nugget to use.
I also had a few people at workshops asking me about books, so thought I’d put together a list. There are loads more, but these are some that I’ve either read or had recommended.
Impro by Keith Johnstone: excellent book that goes beyond impro and into life, education and creativity in general. It’s written more in an essay form so it’s harder to extract exact exercises, but it’s a great fundamental book.
Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone: well structured with clear exercises and points that are very practical for performing groups or running impro workshops.
Improvise by Mick Napier: kinda flips everything on it’s head, which is refreshing. People who’ve been improvising for a while love this book.
Improv by John Cremer: I’m re-reading this at the moment and it’s excellent, especially the sections on setting up the right environment of safety, support and trust for a workshop.
Truth in Comedy by Charna Halpern, Del Close, Kim Johnson: One of the favourite long-form books by long-form master Del Close.
Improvisation for Theatre by Viola Spolin: Written around the same time as Keith Johnstone’s early work, it’s great to read both as they sometimes come from different directions. Lots of great exercises too for workshops.
Genius Now by Alan Marriott: I haven’t read this yet but Alan founded the Crunchy Frog Collective and inspired loads of improvisers in the UK, pretty much kick-starting the UK impro scene. He’s now in Vancouver.
The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White: I haven’t read this yet but I’ve heard it’s a really practical guide and really useful for performing groups. Tom and Deborah founded The Spontaneity Shop.
The Art of Chicago Improv by Rob Kozlowski: Not so much a learn improv book, more a history of improv book which is useful if you want to see how the Chicago improv scene grew. I read it and then apply it to stuff we do here.
Why is that so Funny? by John Wright: Refreshingly different angle on things. Various topics including impro, clowning, mask, buffoon and more. Lots of clearly described exercises too which are great for workshops.
Additional books, not improv as such but still helpful
Sanford Meisner on Acting by Dennis Longwell: I think Meisner is a really good skill for improv, so if you want an outside point of view this is a good one.
Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler: Great narrative book. Remember it’s not the narrative structure, it’s just a narrative structure.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: The original book that Christopher Vogler based his book on. Harder to follow, but goes into greater depth. George Lucas was using this when he put together the orginal Star Wars. Fuck knows what he was reading when he put together the Prequels, go onto YouTube and type in ‘Star Wars Red Letter Media’ to find out what’s wrong with those.
Commedia dell’Arte by John Rudlin: Best commedia book I’ve read and the most practical, with hints on how to play each character.
Presence by Patsy Rodenburg: Some impro warm ups seem to come from this.
Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal: Various fun exercises.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook: Great theatre theory book. The Friday Night Hoopla Impro party came out of reading the chapter on ‘Rough Theatre’ and is actually deliberately set up to be that way.
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander: Apparently one of the late Ken Campbell’s favourite books. Makes you hate television.
Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: Another Ken Campbell recommendation.
So You Want To Be A Theatre Producer? by James Seabright: So much useful and generous information from the producer of Showstopper and other shows.
Improv Classes and Shows