I asked via twitter and facebook what I should write about. The first inspiring response was from one of our students (hi, Joe) asking about improv books. I can do that. I’ll be brief and only covering books I’ve read. Sorry, sweetheart, I haven’t got time for anything else.
Impro by Keith Johnstone - FOR: Intermediate improv students
One of THE improv books. Skip it unless you’ve got a firm grasp of the basics. The section on masks has limited appeal but the sections on education and status work are excellent.
Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone - FOR: Improv coaches
Good book for beginners but written for teaching Johnstone’s improv. Makes sense as it was adapted from his teaching manual.
Improvisation for the Theatre by Viola Spolin - FOR: Theatre teachers
One of THE improv books. A lot of the exercises described are great. Too bad a lot of it is couched in academic mumbo-jumbo. People, clear writing is important. That goes double when instructing.
Truth in Comedy by Del Close, Charna Halpern & Kim Johnson - FOR: Intermediate improv students
One of THE improv books. Lots of good stuff in here, except all the awful name-dropping. Can you learn to play a watchable Harold from this book alone (and this is the Harold Bible)? I doubt it.
Art by Committee by Charna Halpern - FOR: Harold enthusiasts
Skip it unless you love the Harold.
The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White - FOR: Improv Coaches
Again, another good book, suitable for the very beginner but written for and addressing improv teachers. I guess they buy more books than improv students?
Improvise by Mick Napier - FOR: All improv students
My estimation of this book has increased over the years, especially for people who’ve been doing improv for some time. Not a great place to start but not terrible either. Lots of very usable solo exercises. Terrible thermodynamics of improv section (WTF?).
Improvising Better by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen - FOR: Intermediate improv students
Great if you’ve been doing improv for some time. Lots of good advice. Super thin but no filler so that’s fine. Like a good improv scene, it’s as long as it needs to be.
Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Lots of Alumni - FOR: All improv students
Lightly touches upon a wide array of improv topics. Some good, insightful pieces mixed with lesser ones, a smattering of exercises, a bit of Second City history (but not offensively so). It’s an almanac so it fulfills its mandate.
Small, Cute Book of Improv by Jill Bernard - FOR: Intermediate improv students
More a pamphlet with doodles than an actual book but full of good advice for the active improviser. Only book on this list you can’t get on Amazon. Worth the 5$ including shipping (especially now that our dollar is at par).
I’m ignoring the ASSSSCAT DVD as well as the Art by Committee DVD. Let’s skip those for now.
Books I really, really ought to have read but haven’t yet:
Something Wonderful Right Away by Jeffrey Sweet
More of a history but people keep talking about it (including Johnstone who thinks it’s the worst possible title; I tend to agree)
Process by Mary Scruggs and Michael Gellman
This book is on my next amazon order. It’s all about longform improv and storytelling. I am the target demographic. [UPDATE FEB 2011: I enjoyed this book and its unusual story-as-teaching but it has some genuine insight into what goes into improv, long or short. FOR: Intermediate students]
There are one or two I’m either forgetting or ignoring. You can guess. If there’s a book you think I ought to have included (either as a must-read or to warn people away), post a comment.