Spontaneity and Improv

“When you act or speak spontaneously, you reveal your real self, as opposed to the self you’ve been trained to present.”

Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Keith Johnstone's Impro book.

The cover of Impro, a book on improvisation by Keith Johnstone.

Improv class: I’m currently in week 4 of 6 weeks of improvisation class – “Foundations 2” or the second level of improv at the BATS School of Improv in San Francisco. This past Thursday night, the small class of 7 students plus teacher and TA worked on the improv concept of spontaneity.

Being spontaneous has never been a strength of mine, but over the 3 hour session, I explored parts of myself and got to act out a few scenes myself. Apparently, I haven’t been traditionally good at it because I haven’t practiced it enough.

I refer to Johnstone since his book “Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre” is required reading for the course. Johnstone is British, pontifical and hilarious. Along the lines of spontaneity, Johnstone also says, “If you improvise spontaneously in front of an audience you will have to accept that your innermost self will be revealed.”


My scene, which I played with a male classmate, Rob, started out with a suggestion of a location.

“Ice skating rink!” yelled one of our improv classmates.

Rob and I stood in an awkward pose, with me half-bent over, as if falling, and he reaching out his arm as if to hold me up. The scene starts, and I immediately justify the pose.

“Whoa, almost fell there!” I exclaim.

“You’re catching on pretty quick,” Rob says, “learning how to ice skate. You’ll have it down in no time.”

I smile, as we continue to hold arms and pretend to skate across the stage. “Yeah – best first date ever!”

We just created a scene – I’m doing improv – and, obviously, as a single woman, this common theme has spilled out from me onto our scene: dating.

Somedays, improv is like group therapy, where you get to reveal and discover parts of yourself that are locked up, showing yourself for the raw, vulnerable human being you are. And this is yet another reason why improv is amazing.

Bonus: improv games that you can try at home – some of which we play in my class.


Jen Burstedt

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