The years was 1955. Joseph McCarthy and his House
Committee on UnAmerican Activities. And a small group
of students at the University of Chicago known
as THE COMPASS was creating what would eventually
become modern improvisational theater.

Compass helped spawn Chicago’s premiere improv venue,
The Second City, preceding it by half a decade, as well as
Saturday Night Live, which first aired 20 years after the
Hyde Park group’s first performance.

The Compass Theater was founded by David Shepherd
and Paul Sills in 1955. The University of Chicago did not have
a theater department at the time, and Sills was training actors
in an improvisational style developed by his mother, Viola Spolin.
Spolin created the improvisational games during the Great
Depression, while working with poor children in Chicago.

Shepherd, originally from Manhattan felt the theater
there was expensive, atrophied and inaccessible, and he had
moved to Chicago in the 1950s with the goal of bringing theater
to the common man. “Theater in New York was very effete
and based on three-act plays and based on verbiage and there
was not much action,” he said. “This would not be of interest
to people in the street. I was interested in popular theater.
I wanted to create a theater that would drag people off
the street and seat them not in rows but at tables and give
them something to drink, which was unheard of in
[American] theater.” Release date fall 2013

(Timothy Inklebarger)

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