Keith's Advice to Isolated Improvisers...
I posted the write-up below on my Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography Facebook Page on March 29, 2020, and it went viral (maybe not the best choice of word to use during this Covid-19 crisis!). This post got shared over 60 times and had thousands of views. So, I decided to share here, too, as part of my blog. Enjoy!
In my phone conversation with Keith Johnstone last night, I asked him what advice he would give isolated improvisers around the world. These were his top suggestions, with Keith's verbatim sentences in "...":
(1) EDUCATE YOURSELF: "Improvisers should have good general knowledge of stuff." Keith then talked about an improviser in a performance who was offered the suggestion 'Noah's Ark' but he didn't know what to do. Keith, who read The Bhagavad-Gita and the Epic of Gilgamesh by the age of 12 (and just about everything else since!) is saying it is important to have a general knowledge of cultural mythology, history, science, religion, etc. This is why he is always recommending books and films to students. A recommendation he offered last night: "Read P.G. Wodehouse ‘cause he was a great humorist and very accessible and understood structure and stuff."
(2) WRITE: “Read The Artists' Way and write 20 minutes every morning to get the mechanism going.” “Don’t worry about spelling. It’s not to be read by other people. It’s a message to yourself for 4 months later.”
(3) READ (or re-read!) Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, a collection of autobiographical stories from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. Stories about curiosity and common sense that can also spark great conversations with your physicist friends!
(4) PRACTICE 'NOT ADVANCING / ADVANCING': a perfect technique to practice solo, at home, said Keith. One of Keith's favorite 'not advancing' routines is when Keaton in The Navigator makes "Being in a diving suit" more and more interesting. For improvisers at home, Keith suggests to make "Taking your pajamas off" more interesting and then writing down what you did in a list. Master this technique and you'll never fear being alone on stage!
(5) WATCH Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films...again!
(6) Finally, Keith said in his dryly humorous way, "Phone sex would be good."
(Photo of Keith by Dale Dudeck)