Improv pioneer, creator of Theatresports, mourned by colleagues

Keith Johnstone, co-founder of Loose Moose Theatre Company and creator of Theatresports, died Saturday at the age of 90. Johnstone was an internationally recognized improvisation teacher, author and mentor.

Keith Johnstone, 90, died Saturday leaving lasting impact on improv community

Keith Johnstone died Saturday at the age of 90. He was the creator of Theatresports which is played around the world.
Keith Johnstone died March 11 at the age of 90. He was the creator of Theatresports, which is played around the world. (Frank Totino/Facebook)

Keith Johnstone, co-founder of the Loose Moose Theatre Company and creator of Theatresports, died Saturday at the age of 90.

Johnstone, based in Calgary, was an internationally recognized improvisation teacher and author and was a mentor to many.

Dave Lawrence, a long–time colleague, says Johnstone touched a lot of lives.

"Many, many people, after they caught the improv bug, it changed their life. We were taught to fail, and that failure was awesome," Lawrence told The Homestretch in a Monday interview.

Lawrence, who wrote and starred in the cult-hit film FUBAR in 2002, continues to perform and teach at Loose Moose.

"When I was young, I went to a high school Theatresports tournament at Bishop Carroll. They had some improvisors from the Loose Moose there, so I joined the Loose Moose Theatre Company. That's where I met Johnstone, about 30 years ago," he said.

"He's got several books that are translated in many languages around the world and Theatresports is played globally."

'Grandfather of improvisation'

Freelance performer and teacher Shawn Kinley says Johnstone is known as the "grandfather of improvisation."

"In 1984, I wandered into the Loose Moose Theatre. I was a mime artist in Calgary," Kinley told CBC News in an interview.

"I saw Keith Johnstone directing a show and I thought, 'this is pretty amazing stuff, these shows that just happen spontaneously.' Within two weeks, I was doing some of the late night shows. At some point, I was doing 12 shows a week, with kids' shows and late night shows and the regular Theatresports and shows like that."

Samuel Beckett's favourite director

Kinley said Johnstone was also an amazing director.

"Samuel Beckett said that Johnstone was the best director of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which is an amazing thing," he recalled.

"People from around the world would come to his summer school every year, but he also travelled all around the world."

Johnstone's biggest impact was on improv as a whole.

"His work was status transaction, how people interact with each other," Kinley said.

"He will be known for Theatresports, which is now played in about 30 countries around the world, a major impact on the world of improvisation. I don't think that there is really anyone in professional improvisation who hasn't been impacted by Johnstone. The book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which is about spontaneous thinking and snap decisions, Johnstone is referenced in that."

Had a great impact

Kinley said Johnstone is everywhere.

"I was doing a show in Calgary. A director from the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show said 'I heard you were part of Loose Moose. Is Keith Johnstone still there?' He was directing at Disney and he was affected by Johnstone's work," Kinley said.

"He had a great impact that most people don't recognize."


David Bell

Web Journalist

David Bell has been a professional, platform-agnostic journalist since he was the first graduate of Mount Royal University’s bachelor of communications in journalism program in 2009. His work regularly receives national exposure.

With files from Colleen Underwood, The Homestretch