Theatresports 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 Theatresports originated in Johnstone's observations of techniques used in professional wrestling to generate heat, or audience reaction.
Although staged as a competition, Theatresports 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, tends to emphasise the sports competition format more than Theatresports, 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.
In some countries, "Theatresports" is a trademark and copyright of Keith Johnstone and is managed by the International Theatresports Institute. In Australia, the "Theatresports" trademark is owned and managed by Impro Australia Incorporated.
- "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.
- Foreman, Kathleen and Martini, Clem (1996). Something Like a Drug: An Unauthorized Oral History of Theatresports. Players Press. ISBN 0-88734-918-8 (paperback).