Chicago’s First Gift to the World: Improv

For the next seven days, the Metroblogging sites around the globe will be unveiling seven gifts their cities share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. Metroblogging Chicago begins with improvisation. (to see what the rest of the world is contributing, click here)

On July 5, 1955 a group of University of Chicago students called The Compass put on a show at a Hyde Park tavern that wouldn’t be that unusual today, but was completely new at the time — the show was entirely improvised. Under the direction of David Shepard and Paul Sills, the group relied heavily on the work of Chicagoan Viola Spolin (Sills’ mother), who had developed what she called Theater Games in the 1940s to unlock creativity in children. The Compass took a gamble that those games could be adapted to produce works of theater, and that gamble paid off, with The Compass expanding to casts performing in several cities. Players from those casts came back to Chicago in 1959 and The Second City opened its first revue.

The Second City largely used improvisation as the start of a process to create scripted sketches. And while improv was not confined to Chicago during the 60s and 70s, it continued to be used mainly to perform short form “games”. In the 1970s Del Close returned to direct shows at The Second City (he had previously been in The Compass and fired from Second City) with an idea in the back of his head that improvisation could be a stand-alone art: that full-length theatrical pieces could be created in front of an audience. Chicagoan Charna Halpern and Close opened the ImprovOlympic (now the iO Theater) to explore those ideas in front of paying audiences.

These days, improv is everywhere. Actors who have trained and honed their skills in the classrooms and on the stages of The Second City, iO Theater, and The Annoyance are all over TV and movies. Movies like those of Christopher Guest and TV shows like The Office are created, at least partially, with improvisational techniques. And any night of the week here in Chicago you can see a bajillion different improv shows.

World, we give you our improv. You’re welcome.

Tags: Metblogs7Gifts

3 Comments so far

  1. cd (unregistered) on November 26th, 2006 @ 10:55 pm

    Yes, and?

    On behalf of the Sacramento Comedy Spot’s improv class: thanks, Chicago!

  2. Noah (unregistered) on November 27th, 2006 @ 9:47 am

    Thank you, Chicago! SOOOOOO much great improv comedy has started in Chi-town, it is staggering.

    Your pizza may be garbage (hahaha) but your comedy is awesome.

    –Noah from NYC.Metblogs

  3. bob (unregistered) on November 27th, 2006 @ 3:38 pm

    Next: Skyscrapers

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