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November 7: The Mother of Improvisational Theater

November 7, 2015

violalaughTheater coach and innovator Viola Spolin, who created theater games to focus actors on the here-and-now and empower them to improvise, was born on this date in 1906. Spolin studied group games and their use to address social problems at the Neva Boyd Group Work School in Chicago in the 1920s. Training as a settlement house worker, she began to develop theater games and techniques of psychodrama that unlock individual self-expression and creativity. In 1946, Spolin founded the Young Actors Company in Hollywood, where child actors were trained; in 1955 she began to mentor the Compass Players (including Elaine May), the first improvisational comedy troupe in the U.S. In the 1960s, Spolin worked with her son Paul Sills and the Second City Company, which became the incubator for improvisational actors and comedians. Her best-known book is Improvisation for the Theater, published in 1963 and in several subsequent editions, which uses these key terms: physicalization, spontaneity, intuition, audience, and transformation. Spolin died at 88 in 1994.

“Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves.” —Viola Spolin