A couple of months ago, I received the news of Keith Johnstone’s death and learned about a celebratory wake in his honour to be held in Calgary on June 25th. Initially uncertain about attending, fate led me to join my friend, Wren, and I must say, it turned out to be an incredible experience. As we pondered what the event might entail, Wren confessed her belief that it could either be a remarkable gathering or a chaotic mess.
During my time at University, I had the privilege of participating in a one-day improvisation seminar led by Keith himself. The experience was truly transformative. I distinctly remember Keith expressing his disappointment with students who focused solely on being great performers, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and embracing our natural selves. His wisdom echoed the sentiments he had eloquently penned in his renowned book on improvisation, aptly titled “Impro” (which I highly recommend). Don’t try to be great, just try to be average and it will free you to be great.
Yesterday, Wren and I arrived at the festive wake, and to my delight, it was a beautiful celebration of Keith’s life, flaws and all. The eccentric sound technician, Dave Lawrence, embodied the character of Terry Cahill from the film “FUBAR” and added an extra touch of greatness. Mouthwatering authentic Mexican tacos from a local truck satisfied our appetites. The venue showcased an impressive collection of Keith’s artwork, accompanied by live music and heartfelt speeches. Even Death itself made an appearance, as a towering Grim Reaper on stilts, reciting Keith’s “Death’s prologue to Live Snake and Ladders.”
Although the livestream encountered some technical difficulties, the audience cheered Terry on as he quickly resolved them, and we were treated to a captivating collection of interviews and insights from Keith, which I encourage you to watch:
However, there was an incident that stood out—a passionate audience member expressed his disagreement when Keith’s son revealed that he had asked GPT4 to emulate Keith’s thoughts on the new AI technology. The man, sitting near us, repeatedly shouted “No!” at the screen. I thought the message from the chatbot was apt because it determined that while Keith may have marvelled at the technology he ultimately would have emphasized the importance of keeping a human connection.
Surprisingly, these minor technical glitches and the diverse characters in the audience added to the charm of the event. The imperfections created an atmosphere of genuine connection and shared appreciation for Keith’s impact.
Attending Keith Johnstone’s festive wake was a privilege I won’t soon forget. From my personal experiences with his teachings to the delightful surprises at the event, it was an extraordinary tribute to a remarkable individual. The gathering showcased the essence of Keith’s wisdom—embracing imperfections and allowing space for greatness to emerge. It was a truly memorable and inspiring celebration of a life well-lived.