Impro is a thought-provoking book. Here are some of my favourite sentences, taken out of context:


I thought of myself as a late developer. Most people lose their talent at puberty. I lost mine in my early twenties. I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.

It was as if I had learned to redesign everything, to reshape it so that I saw what ought to be there, which of course is much inferior to what is there. The dullness was not an inevitable consequence of age but of education.

It is crazy to insist that one flower is especially beautiful.

In one moment I knew that the valuing of men by their intelligence is crazy, that the peasants watching the night sky might feel more than I feel, that the who man dances might be superior to myself word-bound and unable to dance.

People may seem unimaginative, but they'll be extremely ingenious at rationalising the things they do.

The authors of the pseudo-plays assumed that writing should be based on other writing, not on life.

It's tautological to say that normal people are the most suggestible, since it is because they're the most suggestible that they're the most normal!


Good and bad teachers are engaged in opposite activities.

When I hear that children have an attention span of ten minutes, or whatever, I'm amazed. Ten minutes is the attention span of bored children.

He'd found my class doing arithmetic with masks over their face.

If the students fail they're to blame me... it's obvious that they should blame me... I really will apologise to them when they fail, and ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I am not perfect.

I trained myself to share my eye contacts out among the group.

I say 'Good' instead of 'That's enough'.

Instead of seeing people as untalented, we can see them as phobic, and this completely changes the teacher's relationship with them.

You have to trick students into believing that content isn't important, and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere.

When it's their turn to take part they're to come out and just do what they're asked to, and see what happens. It's this decision not to try and control the future which allows the students to be spontaneous.

The actors would suggest a way of doing something, and if they started to explain, Brecht would say he wanted no discussion in rehearsal - it would have to be tried.

Making the student safe, and getting him to have confidence in you, are essential. You then have to work together with the student, as if you were both trying to alter the behaviour of some third person. It's also important that the student who succeeds at playing a status he feels to be alien should be instantly rewarded, praised and admired. It's no use just giving the exercises and expecting them to work. You have to understand where the resistance is and devise ways of getting it to crumble.

It must be understood by the class that people are allowed to get upset, and are not to be punished by being considered exhibitionist or cissy.


We want people to be very low-status, but we don't want to feel sympathy for them - slaves are always supposed to sing at their work.

Visitors to zoos feel dominant when they can out-stare the animals. I suggest you try the opposite with zoo animals: break eye contact and then glance back for a moment. Polar bears may suddenly see you as 'food'. Owls cheer up perceptibly.

The things said are not as important as the status played.

Status is played to anything, objects as well as people. If you enter an empty waiting-room, you can play high or low status to the furniture.

Once you can accept being insulted (the insult is the verbal equivalent of the custard pie), then you experience a great elation. The most rigid, self-conscious, and defensive people suddenly unbend.

The actor or improviser must accept his disabilities, and allow himself to be insulted, or he'll never really feel safe.

The interest we have in custard pies is in seeing them hit people.

You can play high or low status in any situation.


There's a great gap between what I would choose to write, and what actually emerges.

Look back when you get stuck, instead of searching forwards. You look for things you've shelved, and then reinclude them.

The student hesitates not because he doesn't have an idea, but to conceal the inappropriate ones that arrive uninvited.

We distrust spontaneity, and try to replace it by reason.

It's weird to wake up knowing you'll be on-stage in twelve hours, and there's absolutely nothing you can do to ensure success.

I was so far away from anyone whose criticism I cared about that I felt free to do exactly what I felt like. Suddenly I was spontaneous again; and since then, I've always directed plays as if I was totally ignorant about directing; I simply approach each problem on a basis of common sense and try to find the most obvious solution possible.

The crowd absolves you of the need to maintain your identity.

One you understand the you're no longer held responsible for your actions, then there is no need to maintain a 'personality'.

We learn to hold characteristic expressions as a way of maintaining our personalities.

When someone insist that they 'can't think up a story', they really mean that they 'won't think up a story' - which is OK by me, so long as they understand that it's a refusal, rather than a 'lack of talent'.

Striving after originality takes you far away from your true self, and makes your work mediocre.

If an improviser is stuck for an idea, he shouldn't search for one, he should trigger his partner's ability to give 'unthought' answers.