Happy birthday, improv


The Reynolds Club’s third-floor Frances X. Kinahan Theater was packed to its 137-person capacity at last night’s celebration of improvisational theater. Fifty years ago to the day, the Compass, a theater troupe cofounded by David Shepherd and Paul Sills, AB’51, staged the world’s first improv-theater performance in a bar, no longer in existence, at 1152 East 55th Street. Last night’s heat, oppressive despite the open windows, did little to dampen the audience’s laughing and clapping. Besides improv, the show included remarks by emcee Patrick Brennan of Chicago’s WNEP Theater, associate dean of the College Bill Michel, AB’92, University archivist Dan Meyer, AM’75, PhD’94, and Jonathan Pitts, the show’s producer and the Chicago Improv Festival’s executive director.

Meyer—quipping that if any evidence was needed that the event was a historical one, he was it—announced that Shepherd had donated his professional papers to the University archives in the Reg’s Special Collections. “Now we’ve got the goods,” he said. Pitts said he hoped to track down all the living original Compass Players for a reunion performance in November. Although 50 years is a long time for a human being, he said, “[improv] is still a very young art form. It’s still changing, it’s still growing.”

Undergrad improv group Off Off Campus, accompanied by guitarist Ben Lorch, AB’93, AM’04, recreated the Compass’s first performance. In the first act the players spoofed the present day’s news, including song and dance, and acted out a scene centering on a dysfunctional family. After a ten-minute intermission, Off Off returned with two-person scenes based on audience suggestions. Shepherd led a brief Q&A, followed by a reception in the Reynolds Club South Lounge featuring Glaceau vitamin water and a two-layer chocolate and vanilla cake.

Hana Yoo, '07

Photos: David Shepherd watches Off Off Campus rehearse for last night's show (top); The players enact the day's news (bottom).

Photos by Dan Dry

July 6, 2005