Posted by: Gary Schwartz
My First Encounter with the Mother of Improvisation
I was living in Hollywood, tending bar, performing comedy and mime in local cafes and trying to break into show business like thousands of other hopefuls from all over the country.
A dear friend of mine called from Potsdam University. He told me he was doing a paper on Viola Spolin, the author of “Improvisation for the Theater” the basic handbook of improvisation. He said that Viola Spolin had a center in Hollywood and would I go and check it out and get him some information.
Why I had never heard of this woman? Her name was never mentioned in any of the professional improv workshops I attended in LA. If she invented this form why don’t people involved in the profession give her credit?
I began studying improv in 1976. I came to LA and began workshopping with a group called “Off the Wall” (still performing). They were a very funny and quick bunch. It was fun, fast paced and very nerve wracking for me. We did Freeze Tag and other funny character scenes. I’d try my damndest to wing it and look for opportunities to insert my humor and wit. Although I had fun and felt it was worthwhile, it was very much like taking a fencing class filled with tension. All the players in this workshop viewed each other with a sort-of friendly competition. We were a group of people who had developed various ways of being funny and sort of sparred with each other. To my credit, I was able to hold my own among these very fast witted and funny people.
I found myself outside the Pilot Theater onSanta Monica Blvd., asking if there was any information on this Viola Spolin. A former student of hers was conducting the workshops on her behalf and told me I’d get more information by taking a workshop with him. I agreed and began attending this workshop.