Improvisational theater

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Improvisational theater (often also called improvisational theater for short ) is a form of theater in which dramatic scenes are presented without written dialogue and with little or no predetermined dramatic plot: a scene or several scenes are played that were not previously staged. Most of the time, the actors get a topic or a suggestion from the audience. These suggestions are then the trigger for the scenes that arise spontaneously. Often the players are accompanied by a musician who is usually also improvising .


As a preliminary or transitional form, the Extempore as an insert within a drama or the impromptu theater should have been important. The first origins for this can be traced back to ancient Greece ( Mimus ). In the course of history, however, improvisation or the extempore faded into the background with the development of a literary theater tradition from the 18th century.

In modern times, evidence of improvised theater in Italy and France can be found primarily in the area of ​​the commedia dell'arte . At the beginning of the 20th century there were further experiments, e.g. B. impromptu comedy , impromptu theater , which Jacob Levy Moreno developed into a psychodramatic role play with psychotherapeutic objectives, first in Vienna and later in the USA .

In the 1940s, the American Viola Spolin created improvisation techniques and improvisation games. Improtheater was further developed in America by her son Paul Sills. The student drama group "The Compass", founded in Chicago in 1955, was probably the earliest improvisational theater group as it is today. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht's theater theories and plays by Viola Spolin, she performed socially critical, satirical improvisations according to so-called scenarios . In addition, short scenes were improvised according to the audience's instructions . Improvisation gradually gained recognition as an art form in its own right: its justification lies not only in rehearsals in regular theater operations and in drama schools , but it can now also serve as the sole basis for performances. At the same time, improvisations were often the predominant part of musical performances and the like. a. also a characteristic of jazz and music styles that develop from it, such as blues and rock.

In the 1970s Keith Johnstone created the concept of theater sport in England , which is still the most popular form of improv theater today. Johnstone exported it to Canada , where he founded the Loose Moose Theater, which still exists today.

Del Close invented the first long form of improvisational theater, the so-called "Harold", and thus made many full-length impro formats known today possible.

At the beginning of the 21st century, theater sport and improvisational theater spread globally. Countless forms and formats have now differentiated and were inspired and influenced by more and more sources.


Gunter Lösel compares the theoretical approaches of the "classics" ( Moreno , Spolin, Johnstone , Close ...), looks for common ground and develops from this - using the concept of performativity by Erika Fischer-Lichte - a theory of the performance of improvisational theater:

In the theory and practice of improvisational theater, basic general rules of production have been established. So everyone already has all the important qualities such as storytelling or spontaneity. The majority of the rules deal with removing defense mechanisms and blockages. A story arises from the spontaneity and mutual inspiration of the improv players. The negative intellect gives way to fantasy. Without resistance, an improvisation can develop in a self-organizing manner. Creative sources are the unconscious , emergence and chance .

The problem of fluctuating quality is addressed in several ways. The Commedia dell'arte bridged weak moments with its "lazzi", "tirate" and "bravure" and the ensemble helped when an actor got stuck and supported him. Moreno saw the problem of fluctuating quality as insurmountable, and only the Chicago School and Johnstone found answers to the problem. In improvisational theater, imperfect aesthetics are cultivated. The failure is framed positively, the framework of theater sport begins z. B. On bad scenes, in sports losing is an important part of the event.

to form

  • Short forms: The respective scene only lasts a few minutes. There are hundreds of games ("Games") in various categories, for example Gromolo games, synchronization games and many others. Often short scenes are summarized in an "improv show". The improv show often has a motto or a formal framework. The short scenes are usually also used in theater sports.
  • Theater sports: In theater sports, two teams compete against each other in different disciplines and try to win the audience's favor with particularly good scenes. The term "theater sport" was established by Keith Johnstone .
  • Long forms: The scene lasts at least 15–20 minutes. Harold is a typical long form : impressions on a topic, often with autobiographical elements of the actors, which are collected like collages and interwoven.
  • Impro-Krimi: In various formats, which differ mainly in the participation of the audience, mostly format performed as long-form improvisation.
  • Improvisation with a director: A long play in which a director can intervene.
  • Impro-Soap: An improvised, multi-episode soap opera
  • Biography theater: an invited guest tells from his life. This story is improvised at the same time. In improvisation theater this is more entertaining, in playback theater it is more psychological.
  • improvised musical forms such as opera, musical, grand prix
  • Action Theater : A body- hugging form of improv theater founded by the performer Ruth Zaporah .
  • Applied improvisation: tangible exercises from the pool of improvisational theater to support organizational and personnel development.

Television and school

On UK and US television , Whose Line Is It Anyway? a well-known comedy show based on the principle of improvisational theater (and also uses many of the games known from the improvised short forms). On German television, she served as a model for the improvisational comedy Frei Schnauze and Frei Schnauze XXL ( RTL ). Two other German-language programs from the improvisational comedy genre are Schillerstraße ( Sat.1 ) and Durchgedelte! ( ZDF ).

Improvisational theater is also used in schools, especially in the subject of performing and interactive education . The learners interact and the necessary socialization skills are promoted. In improvisation in school lessons, basic skills in social action such as empathy, tolerance of ambiguity and the representation of identity can be trained.

See also


  • Augusto Boal: Theater of the Oppressed. Exercises and games for actors and non-actors. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-518-11361-5 .
  • Randy Dixon: Right now. Buschfunk, Impuls-Theater, Planegg 2000, ISBN 3-7660-9103-4 .
  • Charna Halpern, Del Close, Kim Howard Johnson: Truth in Comedy. The Manual for Improvisation. Meriwether Pub, 1994, ISBN 1-56608-003-7 .
  • Keith Johnstone: Improvisation and Theater . Alexander, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-923854-67-6 .
  • Keith Johnstone: Drama. Spontaneity, improvisation and theater sports . Alexander, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-89581-001-0 .
  • Gunter Lösel: Theater without intention. Impulses for the further development of improvisational theater (a heart, hand and brain book for improvisational theater). Buschfunk, Impuls-Theater, Planegg 2004, ISBN 3-7660-9104-2 .
  • Gunter Lösel: Playing with chaos. On the performativity of improvisational theater. Transcript, Bielefeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-8376-2398-7 .
  • Stephen Nachmanovitch: The Tao of Creativity. Creative improvisation in life and art . Barth, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-502-61189-9 .
  • Jo Salas: Playback Theater. Alexander, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-89581-216-3 .
  • Viola Spolin: improvisation techniques - for education, therapy and theater . Junfermann, Paderborn 1983, ISBN 3-87387-209-9 .
  • Radim Vlcek: Workshop improvisational theater . Auer, Donauwörth 2000, ISBN 3-403-03423-2 .
  • Ruth Zaporah: Action Theater - the improvisation of presence. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA 1995, ISBN 1-55643-186-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. improvisation | theater . In: Encyclopedia Britannica . July 20, 1998 ( [accessed December 8, 2016]).
  2. Gunter Lösel: Playing with Chaos. On the performativity of improvisational theater . Transcript, Bielefeld 2013.
  3. Viola Spolin: Improvisation techniques for education, therapy and theater. Junfermann, Paderborn 2010.
  4. ^ Keith Johnstone: Improvisation and Theater . Alexander, Berlin 2010.
  5. ^ Keith Johnstone: Theater plays: Spontaneity, improvisation and theater sports . Alexander, Berlin 2011.
  6. Charna Halpern, Del Close, Kim "Howard" Johnson: Truth in Comedy. The Manual of Improvisation . Meriwether Pub, 1994.
  7. Gunter Lösel: Playing with Chaos. On the performativity of improvisational theater . Transcript, Bielefeld 2013.