Talk on the History of Improvisation at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium

Posted on Jun 23, 2017

Aretha Sills speaking about Jane Addams at the 2017 Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium.

On May 12th, I gave a talk at the first annual Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium at University of California, Irvine. Titled “A Search for Community: Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, and the Origins of Improvisational Theater in the U.S.”, the talk and Q&A traced the roots of their work to the radical Progressive-era philosophies cultivated at Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago using stories, personal history, photographs, and Spolin and Sills’ own words and writing.

In 1955, Paul Sills’ called the new improvisational theater, Compass, “a search for a community.” Viola Spolin (originator of Theater Games and author of Improvisation for the Theater) and Paul Sills (founding director of Compass, The Second City, and Story Theater) created a form of theater that celebrated American ideals of liberty, community, and democracy.