Keith Johnstone

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Keith Johnstone teaching the 10 days International Summer School July 2017 in Calgary at age 84.
Keith Johnstone, Calgary 2017

Keith Johnstone (born February 21, 1933) is a British and Canadian pioneer of improvisational theatre, best known for inventing the Impro System,[i] part of which are the Theatresports. He is also an educator, playwright, actor and theatre director.[2]


Born in Devon, England, Johnstone grew up hating school, finding that it blunted his imagination and made him feel self-conscious and shy. After teaching at a working-class school in Battersea, London in the early 1950s, Johnstone was commissioned to write a play by the Royal Court Theatre in 1956.[3] He subsequently became a play-reader, director and drama teacher there, where he chose to reverse all that his teachers had told him in an attempt to create more spontaneous actors. In the 1970s, Johnstone moved to Calgary, Alberta to teach at the University of Calgary.

He is featured in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.[citation needed]


Johnstone co-founded the Loose Moose Theatre, and invented his system of training that has been influencing practice within and beyond the traditional theatre for over 50 years.[1][2] His system include formats such as "Gorilla Theatre", "Micetro" or "Maestro", and "Life Game". The latter has been seen at the National Theatre courtesy of Improbable Theatre, and on U.S. cable television.

Johnstone's work with performers comprises a vast collection of training games, exercises and lazzi. He has written two books about his system; the 1979 Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, and the 1999 Impro For Storytellers.

Much of Johnstone's method was developed by reversing the teaching he received as a child in postwar Britain. Whereas his teachers told him to think more, he'll tell his students to think less.[4]

He is known for slogans that encapsulate his philosophy of improvisation, and include:[2]

  • "You can't learn anything without failing"
  • "Please don't do your best. Trying to do your best is trying to be better than you are"[5]
  • "Go onto stage to make relationships. At least you won't be alone."
  • "It's not the offer, but what you do with it."
  • "Allow yourself to see the audience as interesting and attractive."[6]

Selected publications[edit]

  • 1979 Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, ISBN 9780878301171
  • 1999 Impro For Storytellers, ISBN 0571190995

Further reading[edit]

  • Berney, K.A. (ed.) (1994). Johnstone, Keith, Contemporary British Dramatists, St. James Press, London, ISBN 1558622136
  • Keith Johnstone, in Contemporary Dramatists, 6th ed. St. James Press, 1999.
  • Dudeck, Theresa Robbins (October 10, 2013). Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. ISBN 978-1408183274.
  • Reddick, Grant (2006). Keith Johnstone, Theatre 100. Calgary: Alberta Playwrights Network


  1. ^ The term Impro System was coined by Dudeck in the 2013 biography to identify Keith Johnstone’s theories, techniques, exercises, games, terminology, and pedagogy.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b Theatre Professor and Her Newly Released Book at the Big Orange Book Festival, 2 October 2003 News, College of Performing Arts, Chapman University.
  2. ^ a b c d Dudeck, Theresa R. (2013). Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography, Bloomsbury, Methuen Drama, London.
  3. ^ Johnstone, Keith (2012). Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Routledge. pp. 20–23. ISBN 9781136610455.
  4. ^ "Mark Ravenhill meets Keith Johnstone, the world's most celebrated improvisation teacher". the Guardian. 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2022-11-25.
  5. ^ Elliot, Chad. "Keith Johnstone: Author of Impro and Improv for Storytellers". Seattle Improv Classes. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  6. ^ Described in this TEDx by one of his students: "What If Everybody Was Interesting And Attractive?"

External links[edit]