Thursday, January 22, 2009


This will sound geeky and obvious. 

But this "stay in the moment" thing, when I remember to do it, is making me enjoy things more. 

This book, for as much as I want to think it's too simple or obvious, did a smart thing we never do in corporate workshops...and that I didn't do when I decided to live like I improvise at work: It focuses you on a single thing. I tend to overcomplicate things (anyone who knows me surprised by this? I thought not), and this one not only says "you might try the practices for a week to let them sink in" but also "Would being more spontaneous in certain areas of your life help?"

ABOUT "A WEEK": They say it takes 10 days...two weeks...three weeks...daily practice...three days a turn a trial run into a habit. I usually rush things. (Hey, isn't improv about instant gratification?) So a week FEELS like a long time to me. I may need to move on from this task at the end of the week, but revisit it continually for the next few. 

ABOUT "IN CERTAIN AREAS": Biggest newbie director mistake—try to fix EVERYthing in one scene. We've all seen it or done it. Players do a scene in rehearsal—and the critique lasts 10x as long as the scene. Improvisation for the Spirit breaks down the breaking down, which works great for me. If you asked me if I'm good at living in the moment, I'd say "mostly." But when you ask me where I could do it better and make me think about it, I wind up with something I can fix. 


OMG! I haz a reeder! (Sorry. Site addiction. Really sorry.)

Most improv books are way more helpful once you've done some teaching and directing, because they're written by teachers and directors who assume you know theory. That being said, here are the ones I love and don't, in the order they showed up on 

Truth In Comedy: Charna rocks. HARD. Ask me how she supported the KC improv festival over a beer sometime. This book takes you through basic iO improv theory and explains how a Harold works. Don't even try long-form until you've read it (I'm mostly serious about this), because you won't understand how far it can go. Art By Committee is a different story: Buy it for the DVD. 

Improv: Improvisation and the Theater: Keith Johnstone (the guy behind Theatresports, and therefore ComedySportz, and therefore KC ComedyCity) theory. Written for and interesting almost exclusively to directors. You may think he's a blowhard. Wait until you're teaching, then read it again. If you want improv advice, read Impro for Storytellers instead.

Improvisation for the Theatre: Spolin started this mess—and Second City is built on her theory. HOWEVER. It is almost impossible to understand what she really means until you study with someone who really gets her theory. Read it for some exercises...maybe...but don't expect it to really add to your understanding of improv without some context. 

Second City: Almanac of Improvisation: Years ago, Kevin Colby of KC ComedySportz went to Chicago to study, and came back with a stapled stack of paper with typed-up improv rules put together by Jonathan Pitts. (I edited it, which is how we met—again, ask over a beer.) That was the basis of this book—part history, part advice from the gods. Read it for both.

Group Improvisation: Peter Gwinn wrote it. I got excited. It's just a book of warmup games. But a good book of warmup games.

Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out: As close as you will get to having a beer and talking about improv with Mick Napier. Who, from everything I've heard, is not particularly interested in talking about improv while he's drinking. One of the smartest, nicest, most generous guys on the planet. Read this when you know at least a little about improv—it's even better if you've taken a class with him. 

Improv for Actors: Johnstone-based theory—tons of great stuff on status. This is a go-to book when I'm training or teaching. 

Acting on Impulse: Love this one, too. It's emotion-based improv, existing outside the Annoyance realm. Great exercises, and another go-to book. 

Days and Nights at the Second City: Half history, half how-to-put-a-revue-together. Read this if you do sketch and don't want to suck. 

Something Wonderful Right Away: I heart Jeffrey Sweet. I met him at the Austin festival, learned from him at the AND workshops, and just dig him. He's generous, open and LOOOOOVES improv. Like, enough to marry it. Also, he taught me the 2 +  __ = 5 rule, which you should ask me about over beer. 

Interactive Acting: This out-of-print book (yay, book by Jeff Wirth (the Mr. Rogers of improv, and I mean that in the best way possible) teaches you how to behave when the audience is part of the show. 

The Second City: This book is worth it for the CDs of old sketches alone—but they overprinted by about a gazillion. So if you can't visit Chicago and buy it for a couple of bucks, get it on Ebay. I paid $45 for my first copy—but I have a couple more in my closet.

Small Cute Book of Improv: Jill's book! The most useful information for your dollar in the improv-book world. And, as with Mick, EVEN BETTER if you've worked with her. GO GET IT NOW, and (just like the skirt) it will change your life. Or at least how much fun you have when you play.

Does that help? It was kind of fun to write. I'm sure I'll think of more later. 


  1. Thanks! Yes, I'm now a regular reader of the blog. Your insights clarify my own thoughts a great deal.

    My first comment on your previous post appears to be missing. Looks like a recurring Blogger problem. :(

  2. Mick Napier-first day of class at the Annoyance he invited all of us over to Crew for a beer. Yup. Improv was discussed. His book is pretty much the ultimate improv book for my way of thinking about the whole subject.


    More on books to read :)


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