Foreword by Prof. Dr. Christopher Balme
Chair in Theatre Studies
Improvisational theatre is as old as theatre itself and also one of the newest developments. Creating theatre without a script seems so obvious and natural, yet it requires certain skills that were once part and parcel of theatrical training but over time became eliminated. In Europe this was due to censorship and political restrictions on the one hand and a movement towards literary drama on the other. In the eighteenth century some authorities in Germany even passed laws expressly forbidding improvisation on the stage (Stegreifspiel). As all plays needed to pass the censor improvisional performance was a clever way to avoid censorship and was thus repressed. By the mid-twentieth century improvisation had largely disappeared from the theatre. In the 1950s and 1960s actors and pedagogues in the US and the UK began experimenting with this old form again. Viola Spolin and the US and Keith Johnstone in the UK and later in Canada worked largely independently of one another and both published books which were translated and used all over the world. However, it was Keith Johnstone’s book Impro (1979) and his invention of Theatresports that led to what is today a mass movement. Johnstone’s highly effective techniques and rules plus the competitive, game-like structure of Theatresports created an approach to improvisational theatre that works at all levels.
John Hudson was one of the pioneers of this movement in New Zealand and Germany. I knew John in New Zealand and together we developed theatre workshops for intellectually disabled young people and adults. When I relocated to Germany in the late 1980s I began to do workshops on improvisational theatre at the University of Munich where I was lecturer. A group emerged, the Munich-based Fast Food Theatre, a fully professional improvisation theatre group that has been together for over twenty years. John joined the group in the early 1990s where his input through workshops and training was hugely important and brought the performers onto a new level of expertise. At the same time he began touring Germany with another New Zealand performer as the Shenanigan Brothers. Their performances remain for me some the best improvisational theatre I have ever seen: the energy and inventiveness, the courage to perform on the high edge, quite literally took your breath away. This was improvisational theatre at its very best: always entertaining but sometimes moving into darker areas of human experience from whence John and his partner always emerged with a smile and a joke.
Improvisational theatre can be highly professional but it need not be. The core principles that John Hudson so wittily explains in this book can be used by anyone with a little guidance. They emphasize spontaneity and creativity and appear ideal for second-language learners at all levels. Above all, these games and exercises reward the performers; mistakes are often the best part of improvisational theatre.