Archives acquires Keith Johnstone papers

Keith Johnstone

The University Archives is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Keith Johnstone papers. Johnstone, a British and Canadian pioneer of improvisational theatre, is best known for inventing the Impro System and Theatresports, the latter of which has become a staple of modern improvisational comedy and is the inspiration for the television shows such as "Whose Line Is It Anyway?." As an educator, playwright, actor and theatre director Johnstone's ideas about improvisation, behaviour and performance appeal to a wide variety of groups. From actors to psychotherapists, improvisation companies to theatre schools and companies, business and management training specialists and humanities research institutes, universities and film production companies have invited him to come to teach them about his ideas, and how they might apply them.

Born February, 1933, in Devon, England, Johnstone grew up hating school, finding that it blunted his imagination and made him feel self-conscious and shy. In the late 1950s, as a play-reader, director and drama teacher at the Royal Court Theatre in London, he chose to reverse all that his teachers had told him in an attempt to create more spontaneous actors. During his tenure at the London Royal Court Theatre in the 1950s and 60s, Johnstone developed a series of improvisational exercises to help playwrights overcome writer’s block by short-circuiting the natural tendency to edit themselves. His book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (1979), describes Johnstone's "unique system of training: weaving together theories and techniques to encourage spontaneous, collaborative creation using the intuition and imagination of the actors. Johnstone has since become world-renowned, inspiring theatre greats and beginners alike; and his work continues to influence practice within and beyond the traditional theatre" (Dudeck, Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography). You can see Johnstone's techniques in action at BATS Improv in San Francisco or here on the farm by the Stanford Improvisers (SImps). 

The Johnstone papers consist of original plays, writings, correspondence, theatrical materials, journals, artwork, and more.