The Committee (improv group)

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The Committee was a San Francisco based improvisational comedy group founded by Alan Myerson[1] and Jessica Myerson, formerly known as Irene Riordan [2] and now known as Latifah Taormina. The Myersons were both alums of The Second City in Chicago. The Committee opened April 10, 1963 at 622 Broadway in a 300 seat Cabaret theater that used to be an indoor bocce ball court in San Francisco's North Beach. Garry Goodrow, Hamilton Camp, Larry Hankin, Kathryn Ish,[3] Scott Beach and Ellsworth Milburn were the cast. Jerry Mander handled the group's PR, and Richard Stahl, who later joined the improv troupe, was its first company manager. Jessica Myerson joined the company in May. Arthur Cantor took the company to New York in 1964 for a limited engagement at the Henry Miller Theater. This occasioned a second group to hold the fort in San Francisco. Peter Bonerz, Peter Lane, Leigh French, Chris Ross, Howard Hesseman (who used the name Don Sturdy), Nancy Fish and Carl Gottlieb became the mainstays of the San Francisco troupe. Roger Bowen, a founding member of both The Compass Players and The Second City, joined in 1966. John Brent, co-creator with Del Close of the How to Speak Hip album and a bit player in many movies (Catch 22, American Graffiti, More American Graffiti, Bob, Carol, Ted & Alice, Steel Yard Blues, Porklips Now), was also a member.

When the Broadway troupe returned to San Francisco, they became the resident company of The Committee Theatre on Montgomery Street. This was a short-lived endeavor, that saw three productions mounted there: A Fool's Play, by founding member Larry Hankin, MacBird, by Barbara Garson and America Hurrah, by Jean-Claude van Itallie. Joseph Chaikin of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and van Itallie came to San Francisco to direct and oversee that production.

The Montgomery Street theater also quietly hosted a new publication in its basement: Ramparts Magazine edited by Robert Scheer (now of Truthdig). By this time The Committee was a regular at civil rights and anti-war protests — along with Joan Baez, Norman Mailer, and others.

Actors were now taking classes and forming other troupes. More and more members came in and out of the improv group or the theater troupe as needed. Mimi Fariña, Dan Barrows, Morgan Upton, Julie Payne, Jim Cranna, Bruce Mackey and David Ogden Stiers became part of the improv troupe. A regular behind the scenes stage manager and performer who later successfully formed his own improvisational theater company in Los Angeles, The Groundlings, was Gary Austin.

In the late 60s, The Committee was again asked to form another company to perform in Los Angeles. Peter Bonerz, Mel Stewart, Barbara Bosson, Jessica Myerson, Richard Stahl, Kathryn Ish, Garry Goodrow, Howard Hesseman, Carl Gottlieb, Chris Ross, and Rob Reiner were the stalwarts in LA. The revolving group of players presented satirical political comedy in San Francisco until 1972.

Committee members Alan & Jessica Myerson, Hesseman, and Richard Stahl were all cast in Tom Laughlin's counterculture action drama Billy Jack in 1971, which became a surprise hit and boosted their visibility to America.

The alumni who advanced to higher profiles include: improv guru Del Close, who during his time with The Committee invented his longform improv structure The Harold; Hesseman, who later went on to play Dr. Johnny Fever on the television sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati; and Peter Bonerz, who later to play orthodontist Jerry Robinson on The Bob Newhart Show, before becoming a director. Barbara Bosson later married Steven Bochco and also was a regular on NYPD Blue. Leigh French became a regular on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later established her own sound company. Roger Bowen went on to play Col. Blake in the movie M*A*S*H, do more movies and TV series and write eleven novels. Carl Gottlieb co-wrote the screenplay for Jaws with its author, Peter Benchley.

The Committee performed thirteen shows a week and was dark on Mondays. In San Francisco, it was always a Monday when they let other groups use the space. In this way, The Committee hosted an early performance of The Warlocks before they became the Grateful Dead as well as the debut performance of Michael McClure's The Beard.[4]

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