Book review: Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, by Keith Johnstone.
This book describes aspects of the human mind and social interactions which actors often need to analyze more explicitly than others, because actors need to be aware of the differences between various roles/personalities that they play, whereas unconscious understanding is adequate for people who only interact as a single personality.
The best chapter is about status, and emphasizes the important role that status games play in most social situations and how hard it is to be aware of one’s status-related behavior.
One disturbing claim he makes is that “acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together”. I’m very tempted to deny that I do that (as he predicts most people will deny acting). But I know there’s more happening in social interactions than I’m aware of, so I’m hesitant to dismiss his claim.
The chapter on spontaneity has apparently important insights about the role self-censorship plays in spontaneity and creativity. But I find it hard enough to change my behavior in response to those insights that I can’t be confident he’s correct.
He has the insight that “personality” functions as a public-relations department for the mind. Personality doesn’t seem like quite the right word here, but this is remarkably similar to an idea that Geoffrey Miller later developed from evolutionary theory in his excellent book The Mating Mind.
The chapter on masks and trance is strange and hard to evaluate.