WTTW documentary recalls how Chicago gave birth to improvisation

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Invent improvisation

From the Compass Players at the University of Chicago to The Second City, Chicago has been synonymous with improvisational comedy for decades. But few people know the true story of the beginnings of this world-famous art form.

“Invent improvisation” the last opus of WTTW-Channel 11 The “Chicago Stories” series will premiere at 8 p.m. Friday on the public broadcaster Window to the World Communications.

The hour-long documentary and accompanying website explore the life and legacy of Viola Spolin, the social worker and daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, known as The Mother of Improv.

Alto Spolin

As a teacher at Jane Addams’ Hull House on the West Side of Chicago, Spolin designed a set of “drama games” to help immigrants acclimatize to city life and work together on a stage. as a whole. These techniques formed the basis of improvisation as we know it today.

“Spolin is another of the unsung heroes behind a lot of things you don’t hear about, especially if it’s a woman of a certain period,” Jude Leak, writer and producer of the film, told WTTW digital producer Meredith Francis. .

“It’s a fascinating story that the roots of improvisation lie in this idea of ​​democracy. It’s rooted in social ethics. And it makes perfect sense that this is the case. But again, it’s important to recognize the connection to Hull House, another Chicago gem, because that’s just another reason to be really proud of Chicago.

“What I recognized from interviewing so many people involved in Chicago theater is that there is such respect for Viola and her work. I really felt like people were thinking, ‘Wow, it’s about time someone told her story, because she really deserves it. “

Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, became co-founder and director of Compass Players and The Second City.

Along with rare archive footage and clips from stars such as Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and Rachel Dratch, the documentary features interviews with Alan Alda, George Wendt, and Tim Kazurinsky, among others.

“We hope audiences come away with an appreciation for improv, as Paul Sills has described it, as the most democratic form of theater, because it values ​​everyone equally as a player,” said Leak. “The essence of improvisation is community. . . artists using their gifts to create a better place for everyone. And it all started in Chicago.

Monday’s commentary for the day: Martin Hawrysko: Kudos to Dave Juday for his continued success in the broadcasting industry, now as a mentor to the next generation of broadcasting professionals. Still remember the first 1000 days of the morning when he spent the night with Steve Olken and Dave Wills on the old “Sports Line”.


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