Conversations with Keith Johnstone: Learn how to throw, be willing to drop
(First published on Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography Facebook Page on July 30, 2018) First of all, thank you, Phelim McDermott, for telling me about Seth Godin! If you are a student of Johnstone's, you will dig Godin's podcast "Akimbo" and his blog (FYI, Godin recommends Johnstone's IMPRO as one of the best books on Creativity). On juggling, for example, here is what Godin says: "1. Throwing is more important than catching. If you're good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself.; 2. Juggling is about dropping. The entire magic of witnessing a juggler has to do with the risk of something being dropped. If there is no risk of dropping, juggling is actually sort of boring." And this is true for impro, too. As Keith reiterates time and again, fear of failing (e.g., dropping the ball) creates mediocre and self-absorbed performances. No risk, no drama. During a recent conversation I had with Keith about sexist behavior in improvisation and how to create a safe space not to play it safe on stage, he said: "You have to be aware of the morality that is being expressed." It's not about avoiding sexist or politically incorrect scenes: "Drama is not politically correct. I don't want everything made tame and gutless," said Keith. He continues with: politically incorrect scenes are okay, "as long as the values are understood...[then] you are educating the audience. But if you avoid all sorts of confrontation, it's just like saying [impro] has to be about nothing." Learning to throw for jugglers is akin to improvisers acquiring an awareness of the collective values we are expressing. Once the values are understood, like in juggling, then the magic (the risk-taking) can be brought back to the stage. Keith (and many who have dedicated their lives to improvisation) are weary of improvisation that is too comfortable or about nothing, especially given the needs of the world we now inhabit. So, instead of avoidance, let us strive to create impro that is powerful, dramatic, let's place hot button issues center stage and fight for our values. Learn how to throw, be willing to drop.