St. Louis played a fundamental role in the evolution of improv.
The Compass Players were founded in 1955 by David Shepherd and Paul Sills, Viola Spolin’s son. They created the first improvisational theaters in Chicago and St. Louis.
Paul Sills went on to form the Second City, Chicago, and David Shepherd founded iO in New York.
These theaters produced talented actors ranging from John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray to Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert.
The doors opened at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis, with Theodore J. Flicker, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, and Del Close. Elaine May and Ted Flicker are credited with creating The Kitchen Rules. Nearly 75 years later these principles continue to guide improvisational players today.
The Kitchen Rules
(1) Whatever verbal or pantomimed reality that is brought to the stage by one player may not be negated or denied by the other.
(2) While improvising, a player has infinite opportunities for choice, and it is better to take an active than a passive choice, (“take the unlikely choice,” Del Close recalls as a phrase of Elaine’s)
(3) In an improvisation, where there are no lines, or given actions, or dramaturgical “spine” to set a character in motion, you are your character, although not one called by your name. All characterization or “acting” comes from an exaggerated or intensified rendition of yourself called by another name.
In 2012, St. Louis Compass Improv celebrated and honored this history by forming a non-profit organization.
Our initial goal was to host an annual improv festival showcasing the best of the St. Louis improv community and to create opportunities for local performers to learn from national and international performers.
What began as a festival has grown into a multi-faceted community organization committed to promoting improv throughout the St. Louis region through events and community outreach.