Northwestern University celebrates “High Priestess of Improv”Continue reading.
‘High Priestess of Improv’ Viola Spolin gets tribute exhibition
Viola Spolin was the mother of director Paul Sills, who famously co-founded the Chicago-based Compass Theater, Second City and Story Theatre. In the 1950s and 60s, especially, she was also an oracle to countless alums of those places — Alan Arkin, Ed Asner and Valerie Harper among them — who used the “theater games” she created and taught to spark their imaginations and devise scenes that transcended the everyday and sometimes achieved the sublime. Successive generations would put Spolin’s methods to work as well, using them as the basis for scenes in such popular television shows as “30 Rock,” Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as well as the big-screen mockumentaries of Christopher Guest.
On April 1, Northwestern University will host an exhibition called “Viola Spolin: Improvisation and Intuition.” It runs through August 16 and includes video clips, rare photos and Spolin’s writings.
Several years back, here’s how Second City alum Dennis Cunningham (a San Francisco attorney who went on to become a civil rights activist and help found the People’s Law Office in Chicago) summed up Spolin’s approach and magic:
“Viola Spolin was amazing. She was like no one I’d ever been around. All that improvisation stuff was new to me and that was my real introduction to it, the workshop. She was acerbic to a degree in doing that stuff and she knew what she wanted and she worked hard to get it and she worked you hard to try to do it and respond and understand it. And she was really dedicated and very glad to be participating in the enterprise as a whole. There was probably not 100 percent agreement that it was the best thing to have that workshop and have her be attached to it, but it was and they needed it. They definitely needed it to get people to understand some of the same stuff so that they could work together onstage. And it wasn’t that easy to understand, what she was saying or what she meant or what it really was or to really tell if you were doing it or not doing it or to know what she meant when she said somebody got it or somebody didn’t get it. But at the same time it was really rich and pithy. She would say, ‘No playwriting. You’re in your head and you’ve got to get out and let the game take you out or the exercise take you out, and you have to let your mind focus on the point of concentration.’ And there were a lot of those exercises that were really abstruse and mystifying, if not mystical.”
Viola Spolin: Improvisation and Intuition
April 1 through August 16
Northwestern University library
1970 Campus Dr.
Monday — Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is free