Donald Keith Johnstone (21 February 1933 – 11 March 2023) was a British-Canadian educator and theatre director. A pioneer of improvisational theatre, he was best known for inventing the Impro System,[i] part of which are the Theatresports. He was also an educator, playwright, actor and theatre director.[2]

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

(1933-02-21)21 February 1933
Brixham, England
Died11 March 2023(2023-03-11) (aged 90)
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
EducationSt Luke's College Exeter
  • Theatre educator
  • director
  • writer
Years active1956–2018
Known forWork in improvisational theatre
Ingrid von Darl
(div. 1981)

Life edit

Donald Keith Johnstone was born in 1933 in Brixham, Devon, England.[3] He grew up hating school, finding that it blunted his imagination and made him feel self-conscious and shy. After attending St Luke's College Exeter, he taught at a working-class school in Battersea, London in the early 1950s, before being commissioned to write a play by the Royal Court Theatre in 1956.[4] 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 1972, Johnstone moved to Calgary, Alberta to teach at the University of Calgary, where he remained until retiring in 1995.[3]

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

Johnstone was married to Ingrid von Darl until their divorce in 1981. They had one son, Benjamin Johnstone who had one son, Cort Dawnne, and Johnstone had a second son from another relationship.[3] He died at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary on 11 March 2023, at the age of 90.[3][5]

Work edit

Johnstone developed his training system at the Loose Moose Theatre, which he co-founded in 1977.[6] He retired as artistic director in 1998, but remained involved with the company and continued to work as an educator until 2018, amid a decline in his health.[6][5]

Johnstone's work with performers comprised a vast collection of training games, exercises and lazzi. He wrote two books about his system; 1979's Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, and 1998's Impro For Storytellers.[3]

Johnstone's teaching was described as a reversal of the lessons he received as a child in postwar Britain. Writing in The Guardian in 2009, Mark Ravenhill said about him, "Whereas his teachers told him to think more, he'll tell his students to think less. He was advised to plan a story before it was written. Now he says: listen to an audience and let the tale tell itself".[7]

Johnstone was known for slogans that encapsulated his philosophy of improvisation, and included:[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"[8]
  • "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."[9]

Selected publications edit

  • 1979 Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, ISBN 9780878301171
  • 1998 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 (10 October 2013). Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. ISBN 978-1408183274.
  • Reddick, Grant (2006). Keith Johnstone, Theatre 100. Calgary: Alberta Playwrights Network

Notes edit

  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]

References edit

  1. ^ 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 Dudeck, Theresa R. (2013). Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography, Bloomsbury, Methuen Drama, London.
  3. ^ a b c d e Genzlinger, Neil (14 April 2023). "Keith Johnstone, Champion of Improvisational Theater, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  4. ^ Johnstone, Keith (2012). Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Routledge. pp. 20–23. ISBN 9781136610455.
  5. ^ a b "Keith Johnstone, internationally recognized pioneer of improvisation, creator of Theatresports, and co-founder of the Loose Moose Theatre, dies at 90 [Press Release]" (PDF). Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  6. ^ a b Volmers, Eric (13 March 2023). "Keith Johnstone, pioneer of improvisation theatre and co-founder of The Loose Moose Theatre Company, dies at 90". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  7. ^ "Mark Ravenhill meets Keith Johnstone, the world's most celebrated improvisation teacher". the Guardian. 2 March 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  8. ^ Elliot, Chad. "Keith Johnstone: Author of Impro and Improv for Storytellers". Seattle Improv Classes. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  9. ^ Described in this TEDx by one of his students: "What If Everybody Was Interesting And Attractive?"

External links edit