Many people recognize improv comedy from mainstream favorites Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Second City. Not only did shows like MadTV and Saturday Night Live – SNL – spawn from improvisation, but many theaters across the country have paved the way in making it a legitimate art-form. Improv, though, has roots from a long, long time ago.
Improvisational comedy dates back to 391 B.C. Atellan Farce, or Oscan Games, initiated improv through humor and rude jokes. The forms of Atellan Farce spawned what many people recognize today as Commedia dell’arte – the most famous masks of theater. Improvisational theater, along with pantomime work and suggestion-based art, was presented on the streets of Italy into the 16th and 18th centuries. Actors created plays out of broad stories and themes.
In the 1800s, few theatrical theorists presented improvisation as a psychological and acting tool. Konstantin Stanislavsky, of Russia, and Jackques Copeau, of France – both notable directors, actors and theorists – always used improv in their acting technique instruction. Stanislavsky indicated improv comedy, improvisation theater and improvisational therapy are vital for quality acting; life.
Then the 1900s happened and the fuse of improv had been lit – especially in the midwest. Viola Spolin, often referred to as the Mother of Improv, built momentum for the improv movement. In the 1940s into 1960s, Spolin created staged shows and wrote many notable books. In the 1970s, Keith Johnstone, often referred to as the father of improv, invented TheaterGames in Canada – accredited to being the style used in the hit show Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
All while the windy city was booming – next blog will highlight the Chicago boom.
Jon Jon Lannen is the best-selling author of the Giraffe children’s book series. He is an instructor, performer and writer for the RISE Comedy Playhouse. More on him here.