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Theatre sports is a form of improvisational theatre, which uses the format of a competition for dramatic effect. Opposing teams can perform scenes based on audience suggestions, with ratings by the audience or by a panel of judges. Developed by director Keith Johnstone in Calgary, Alberta, in 1977, the concept of Theatre sports originated in Johnstone's observations of techniques used in professional wrestling to generate heat, or audience reaction.


  • Philosophy 1
  • Derivatives 2
  • Trademark 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Although staged as a competition, traditional Theatre sports has the philosophy that corniness and gags tend to lower the quality of scenes. The emphasis is on building characters and on spontaneous, collaborative storytelling. Jokes and gags are seen as disrupting the narrative, and avoiding both collaboration and building a scene. At the start of a scene, anything is possible; but, as more offers are established and the reality of the scene is more clearly defined, it becomes an ever-shrinking "circle of possibilities", which limits what sorts of offers the improviser/s might reasonably make in the scene. Another technique taught by Johnstone is to establish a 'platform' early in the scene that defines the characters and background. Only once that platform is established should some wrinkle or conflict be introduced. According to this technique, improvisors should not step outside the predetermined circle of possibilities by making offers that seem inconsistent with what was previously established.


ComedySportz, started in 1984 in Milwaukee, WI,[1] tends to emphasise the sports competition format more than Theatre sports, for example by having a referee who awards points and administers fouls. The Australian shows Thank God You're Here and TheatreGames LIVE follow a similar format to these shows. New York City's Face Off Unlimited has also adapted the concept to numerous productions. Two similar formats, Ligue nationale d'improvisation and Canadian Improv Games both also officially debuted in 1977 in Quebec and Ontario, respectively. The Canadian Improv Games had been doing competitive improv at various events as early as 1974.


Use of the term "Theatresports" (which is a trademark and copyright of Keith Johnstone) is managed by the International Theatresports Institute, which licenses the Theatrespors, Maestro and Gorilla Theatre formats.

See also


  1. ^ "ComedySportz History". World Comedy League. Retrieved 2006-09-16. 


  • Johnstone, Keith (1987). Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-87830-117-8.
  • Johnstone, Keith (1999). Impro For Storytellers. Faber UK. ISBN 0-571-19099-5 (paperback).
  • Keith Johnstone on the origins of Theatresports and how a typical show runs.
  • "Theatre, English-Language". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation of Canada, 2006.
  • Clark, Andrew (1999). "Comedians Without a Net". Maclean's, 1999-09-08, Vol. 112, Issue 32.
  • Sillars, Les. "The Global Moose". Alberta Report, 1995-08-28, Vol. 22 Issue 37, pp36–37.
  • "Unscripted", Chris Wiebe, Alberta Views magazine, September 2005.

Further reading

  • Foreman, Kathleen and Martini, Clem (1996). Something Like a Drug: An Unauthorized Oral History of Theatresports. Players Press. ISBN 0-88734-918-8 (paperback).

External links

  • International Theatre sports Institute
  • Keith Johnstone's official website
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