Off-Broadway Improv & Musical Comedy Theater


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Recommended Reading: Improv Theatre Booklist

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Title: Improvisation for the Theater
Author: Viola Spolin
ISBN: 0-8101-1000-8
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Ranking: good
Description: An essential text for budding improvisors. This and "Impro" are probably the two fundamental texts to start from. Whereas "Impro" covers the theory, this book emphasizes the practical use of theater games. Viola Spolin was one of the founders of modern improv, and her early work in the 1930's led to the Compass Theatre and Second City.

Title: Truth in Comedy
Author: Del Close, Charna Halpern and Kim "Howard" Johnson
ISBN: 1-56608-003-7
Publisher: Meriwether Publishing of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ranking: good
Description: One of the best "contemporary" books about improv. Very practical approach, aimed directly at people who are actively performing in an improvisational format. Del Close is one of the pioneers of improvisation, and was one of the founding members of the Chicago-based Second City.

Title: Impro
Author: Keith Johnstone
ISBN: 0-413-46430-X
Publisher: Methuen
Ranking: good
Description: An excellent book for someone just starting out in improv, and worthwhile reading for people who've been doing it for a while. Discusses a lot of basic theory, and explores the nature of spontaneity. Keith Johnstone is best known as the the inventor of Theatresports.

Title: Improvising Better: A Guide For The Working Improviser
Author: Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen
ISBN: 0-325-00942-2
Publisher: Heinemann Drama
Description: Whether you are a beginner or a veteran, Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser is an easy-to-read self-help book created with the new generation of improviser in mind. It's written for today's performer who is looking for a quick fix to their performance problems. This book is a fast read with long lasting results that will catapult you to the next level.

Title: Interactive Acting
Author: Jeff Wirth
ISBN: 0-9632374-9-7
Publisher: Fall Creek Press, Fall Creek, Oregon.
Ranking: good
Description: An excellent primer for both interactive (audience participatory) theatre and improvisational theatre in general. Written in clear, simple language.

Title: Improvisation in Drama
Author: Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow
ISBN: 0-312-04746-0
Publisher: St. Martins Press, 1989
Description: Tremendous book giving an overview of improvisation from ancient times to now. Contains a great comparison between Johnstone and Spolin and the "New York School" vs the "Chicago School".

Title: Improv Comedy
Author: Andy Goldberg
ISBN: 0-780573-606083
Publisher: Samuel French, Hollywood
Ranking: okay
Description: Good treatment of the elements of improvisation. One of the few books that actually discusses the practicalities of assembling a troupe, structuring a show, getting suggestions from an audience, lighting and music. Also presents a good list of workshop games and exercises. Andy Goldbeg is a director and performer with "Off the Wall", a Los Angeles-based improv troupe.

Title: Comedy Improvisation
Author: Delton T. Horn
ISBN: 0-916260-69-0
Publisher: Meriwether Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ranking: okay
Description: Solid discussion of the basic principles of improv; also has a brief overview of forming a troupe and staging a show.

Title: How To Be Really Funny
Author: Mark Stolzenberg
ISBN: 0-8069-6887-7
Publisher: Sterling Publishing, New York
Ranking: okay
Description: Despite the goofy title (and a cover that makes it look like it's aimed at kids) this is a surprisingly good book with a fresh approach.

Title: Improv! A Handbook for the Actor
Author: Greg Atkins
ISBN: 0-435-08627-8
Publisher: Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Description: As the title implies, this book is aimed at the actor who wishes to improve his or her improv skills for use in straight theatre.

Title: Commedia dell'Arte: An Actor's Handbook
Author: John Rudlin
ISBN: 0415-047706
Publisher: Routledge, London
Description: Includes a short history of the Commedia form, a guide to playing each of the stock characters, and possible applications for twentieth century theatre.

Title: Playing Boal Edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz
ISBN: 0-415-08608-6
Publisher: Routledge, London
Description: A collection of essays by practitioners of Boal's techniques, exploring variations on and practical experiences with Theatre of the Oppressed.

Title: Something Wonderful Right Away
Author: Jeffrey Sweet
ISBN: 0-380-01884-5
Publisher: Limelight Editions (118 E. 30th St., NYC, NY 10016)
Ranking: history
Description: An outstanding history of the early days of improvisation in the United States, starting with the roots around the University of Chicago. Comprised almost entirely of interviews with the people who actually shaped the form, including David Shepherd, Paul Sils, Mike Nichols, Del Close, Theodore Flicker, Bernard Sahlins, Paul Sand, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, David Steinberg, Valerie Harper and Gilda Radner. If you want to know how it all began (and learn something about improvisation, as well) then this is the book to get.

Title: The Compass
Author: Janet Coleman
ISBN: 0-226-11345-0
Publisher: Knopf, New York (hardcover), University of Chicago Press (softcover)
Ranking: history
Description: A more detailed examination of one of the earliest improv troupes, The Compass. Provides interesting insights into the group's dynamics, as well as the discoveries they made about the craft.


Title: Something Like a Drug
Author: Clem Martini and Kathleen Foreman
ISBN: 0-88995-122-5
Publisher: Red Deer College Press, Calgary
Ranking: history
Description: Subtitled "an unauthorized oral history of Theatresports".

Title: House of Games
Author: Chris Johnson
ISBN: 0878300899
Publisher: Routledge, NY, 1998
Description: Frank Gallagher says: "Very good on process of creating groups and performances. He focuses on the leader's role, which he calls facilitation. It appears his work is almost exclusively among marginalized segments of society. Nice mix of theory and application, the application is explained by the theory."

Title: Theater Games for the Classroom
Author: Viola Spolin
ISBN: 0-8101-4004-7
Publisher: Northwestern University Press

Title: Theatre Games for Young Performers
Author: Maria C. Novelly
ISBN: 0-916260-31-3
Publisher: Meriwether Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Title: Let's Improvise
Author: Milton E. Polsky
ISBN: 0-13-532051-8
Publisher: Prentice-Hall

Title: Theatre Games
Author: Clive Barker
ISBN: 0-413-45380-4
Publisher: Methuen
Description: As far as I know, this Clive Barker is not the same one that writes horror novels and films.

Title: Improvisation
Author: John Hodgson and Ernest Richards
ISBN: 0-394-17099-7
Publisher: Grove Press, New York

Title: Gamester's Handbook
Author: Donna Brandes and Howard Phillips
ISBN: 0-09-1364213
Publisher: Hutchison, London, UK
Description: Good collection of workshop games.

Title: A Guide to Improvisation
Author: Ronald James and Peter Williams
ISBN: 0-906836-05-4
Publisher: Kemble Press, Oxon, UK
Description: Fairly solid collection of games, oriented towards teaching theatre rather than performing.

Title: Drama Starters
Author: Graham Stoate
ISBN: 0-17-444115-0
Publisher: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Surrey, UK
Description: Another collection of games, mostly geared towards teaching drama to children.

Title: Improvisation Through Theatre Sports
Author: Lynda Belt and Rebecca Stockley
ISBN: 0-9620799-1-X
Publisher: Thespis Productions, 2010-12th Ave SE, Puyallup, Washington
Description: Very good collection of performance games.

Title: Whose Line is it Anyway?
Author: Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson
ISBN: 0-7126-3577-7
Publisher: Century, with Channel Four Productions, London, UK
Description: A fun little book based on the popular British TV series (seen on PBS in the States). Very light reading, features many photos from the series along with descriptions of some of the most popular games (as well as hints about how how to play them).

Title: The Improvised Play
Author: Paul Clements
ISBN: 0-413-50440-9
Publisher: Methuen
Description: A description of the work of Mike Leigh, who uses improvisational techniques to create scripted theatre.

Title: Don't Be Prepared
Author: Keith Johnstone
ISBN: 0-9698382-0-4
Publisher: Loose Moose Theatre Company
Description: Described as a Theatresports manual for teachers and improvisors, but it actually contains a lot of insight into the craft of improv. Also contains a list of various games and some of the theories behind them.

Title: Theatresports Down Under -- a guide for coaches and players
Author: Lyn Pierse
ISBN: 0-646-23861-2
Publisher: Improcorp Australia and ish group, distributed by ish group pty ld, 11 Power Ave, Alexandria 2015 NSW Australia phone +61 2 9699 1999, fax +61 2 9310 5744

Title: Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre
Author: Jo Salas
ISBN: 0964235013
Publisher: Kendall/Hunt
Description: Presents the history, techniques, and principles of the interactive form, Playback Theatre, developed by Jonathan Fox, in which stories told by the audience are "played back" by improvisational performers. Includes chapters on ritual, use of music, and conducting. [Wirth]

Title: Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte
Author: trans. & ed. by Henry F. Salerno
ISBN: 0879101334
Publisher: Limelight Editions
Description: A collection of fifty complete plots from the commedia dell'arte, presented in scenario form. This book can be used as a model for understanding scenario-driven, rather than script-driven, performances. [Wirth]

Title: Acting Games - Improvisations and Exercises
Author: Marsh Cassady
ISBN: 0916260925
Publisher: Meriwether, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Description: A textbook of theatre games and improvisations. [Halpern]

Title: Improve With Improv!
Author: Brie Jones
ISBN: 0916260984
Publisher: Meriwether, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Description: A guide to improvisation and character development. [Halpern]

Title: Il segreto della Commedia dell'Arte
Author: Ferdinando Taviani
Publisher: La Casa Usher, Firenze, 1982
Description: Written in Italian.

Title: Impro, Reflexion et Analyse
Author: Robert Gravel and Jean-Marc Lavergne
Publisher: Lemeac, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Description: Written in French.

Title: Playing the Game
Author: Christine Poulter

Title: Improv Game Book II
Author: Lynda Belt
ISBN: 0-9620799-6-O.
Publisher: Thespis Productions, 2010-12th Ave SE, Puyallup, Washington.
Description: A followup to Improvisation Through Theatre Sports, its just a collection (albeit a good one) of performance games.

Title: Theatre of the Oppressed
Author: Augusto Boal
ISBN: 0-930452-49-6.
Publisher: Theatre Communications Group, New York.
Description: The theory of Boal's system of interactive, empowering form of theatre.

Title: Games for Actors and Non-Actors
Author: Augusto Boal
ISBN: 0-415-06155-5.
Publisher: Routledge, London.
Description: The practical application (exercises, games, and structures) of Boal's system.

Title: Playing Boal Edited
Author: Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz
ISBN: 0-415-08608-6.
Publisher: Routledge, London.
Description: A collection of essays by practitioners of Boal's techniques, exploring variations on and practical experiences with Theatre of the Oppressed.

Title: Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre
Author: Jo Salas
Publisher: Kendall/Hunt.
Description: Presents the history, techniques, and principles of the interactive form, Playback Theatre, developed by Jonathan Fox, in which stories told by the audience are "played back" by improvisational performers. Includes chapters on ritual, use of music, and conducting.

Title: Stevie Ray's Medium-Sized Book of Comedy... What We Laugh At, and Why
ISBN: 0967178606
Publisher: Punchline Publications
Description: Deals with the elements of conditions of laughter both on and off the stage.

Title: Whose Improv Is It Anyway: Beyond Second City
Author: Amy E Seham
ISBN: 1578063418
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Description: Drawing on the experiences of working improvisers, WHOSE IMPROV IS IT ANYWAY? provides a never-before-published account of developments beyond Second City's mainstream approach to the genre. This fascinating history chronicles the origins of "the Harold", a sophisticated new "long-form" style of improv developed in the '80s at ImprovOlympic, and details the importance and pitfalls of ComedySportz. Here also is a backstage glimpse at The Annoyance Theatre, best known on the national scene for its production of The Real Live Brady Bunch. Readers will get the scoop on the recent work of players who, feeling excluded by early improv's "white guys in ties", created such independent groups as The Free Associates and the African American troupe Oui Be Negroes.

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