Happy Birthday Keith Johnstone

I don’t know if it’s possible to say what a blessing it has been to know Keith’s writing and to train with him.

The picture above shows Keith on his magic sofa, drawn while I was learning theatrical improvisation, on one of several courses about a decade ago. (Magic sofa? It has a slit, enabling performers on stage to disappear out of the back.) Keith would sit there and spill all kinds of wisdom while looking confused, and forgetful. “I’m in my 80s, you know,” he would say.

Keith devised much of what we know today as impro (or improv, as some would have it) while working at The Royal Court theatre in the 1950s and 60s. I first stumbled on his book Impro as a journalist and instantly regretted that I couldn’t interview him, assuming he must have died because I’d never heard of him.

But no, he was alive and still teaching.

After one of the courses I did with him, Keith wrote and drew in the front of my copy (see above): “Don’t be original John-Paul”. This advice is incredibly helpful in impro and much else; because to try to be original is like trying to be “not like you”, and that’s a guaranteed block to creativity.

Instead, Keith advised us to be obvious, “because your obvious will seem original to other people”.

Having trained with Keith I went on to teach others, in all kinds of settings. It was always such fun, whether I was working with management consultants or long-term sex-offenders in a Scottish prison (the latter group took a lot longer to warm up, because they didn’t want to look stupid in front of each other).

These pics show a big impro session I ran in Korea, which was so much fun, at Salon London in Foyles bookshop, and with employees at a big housing association.

God, I love impro, love doing it, love teaching it, and have missed doing both since having a breakdown and pandemic and blah blah blah.

THANK YOU Keith Johnstone and happy birthday.