David Shepherd (producer)

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David Gwynne Shepherd (October 10, 1924 – December 17, 2018) was an American producer, director, and actor primarily noted for his work in improvisational theatre.

Life and career[edit]

Born in 1924 in New York City to an old money family, Shepherd grew up with left-leaning sensibilities. He was the son of Louise Tracy (Butler) and William Edgar Shepherd, an architect.[1] His paternal grandmother was the sister of socialite Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt.[2] He studied English at Harvard and received an M.A. in the History of Theater at Columbia. Disenchanted with what he perceived as a European dominated theater on the East Coast, Shepherd gravitated to the Midwest.[3][4]

In 1953 Shepherd was one of the co-founders of the Playwrights Theatre Club in Chicago. In 1955 he and Paul Sills founded the Compass Players, the forerunner of The Second City.[5] Compass launched the careers of Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, and Shelley Berman (to name a few) and started a revolution in entertainment.[6][7] After Compass, David went on to create numerous improv formats – including the ImprovOlympic (a competitive theatrical sporting event), Responsive Scene Radio Show (listeners create their own stories on air) and MOVIExperience (improvising a movie) which culminated in the publication of his book That Movie In Your Head.

More recently he, Howard Jerome and Jamie "Willie" Wyllie created the Canadian Improv Games, a national high school activity inspired by one of Shepherd's formats which is produced in association with Canada's National Arts Centre[8] and which is the subject of the documentary film In The Moment.[9] In addition to leading workshops in Improvisation, Shepherd was involved in developing techniques for the creation of improvisational films with his partner, Nancy Fletcher. Shepherd resided near Amherst, Massachusetts. He actively worked on a new improvisational format known as Life-Play, which consists of improvised games that can be played on the phone or in person by two or more players.[10]

In 2010, the David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre was completed.[11] This documentary is an oral history detailing the career of Shepherd and his contributions to Improvisational Theatre. The project was the brainchild of Wyllie and directed by Mike Fly (creator of the web series Improv Monologue Project), and written by Shepherd's protegee, Michael Golding. The documentary includes interviews with Bernie Sahlins (co-founder of Second City), Suzanne “Honey” Shepherd (Sopranos), Andrew Duncan (Compass/Second City), Charna Halpern (co-founder of iO), Janet Coleman (author of The Compass), Mark Gordon (Compass/Second City), Howard Jerome (actor, producer, director), Golding, and Wyllie. The documentary premiered in 2011 at the 34th Annual Canadian Improv Games and at the Boston Improv Festival.

Shepherd's ground-breaking experiments with improvisational formats have, for the most part, been incubated in his company Group Creativity Projects.[12] He received lifetime achievement awards from the Chicago Improv Festival, Second City, and the Canadian Improv Games.

Shepherd died on December 17, 2018, at age 94.[13]


  1. ^ "Colonel Shepherd, an Architect, and Wife Killed in Auto Crash". The New York Times. 8 April 1971.
  2. ^ "Guide to the David Shepherd Papers 1953-2006".
  3. ^ Sweet, Jeffrey Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and The Compass Players, 2004, page 2
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-27. Retrieved 2011-08-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ The 50th anniversary of the founding of The Compass Players was celebrated in 2005 by a re-enactment of a Compess-like show by a group of students at the University of Chicago; see http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/050818/compass.shtml
  6. ^ See Stephen Kercher's book "Rebel With A Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America", University of Chicago Press, 2006. See also a review of this book by Warren Leming at http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_6.3/leming.htm.
  7. ^ This formative time in the history of American improvisational theater is the subject matter of a 2011 documentary "Compass Cabaret '55; see http://siskafilms.com/ and http://www.outofboundscomedy.com/compass-cabaret-55-film/.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-27. Retrieved 2011-08-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ http://www.inthemomentfilm.com/
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-06. Retrieved 2011-08-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ http://www.themikefly.com/DAVID_SHEPHERD_A_LIFETIME_OF_IMPROVISATIONAL_THEATRE/HOME.html[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "風俗求人の中で最も稼げる業種とは?優良店を見極める鍵は福利厚生".
  13. ^ Sandomir, Richard (19 December 2018). "David Shepherd, 94, Dies; Nurtured Improvisational Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2018.


Shepherd, David (2005). That Movie in Your Head: Guide to improvising stories on video. Shutesbury, MA: Gere Publishing. pp. 202 pages. ISBN 0-9743995-0-7.

Further reading[edit]

Coleman, Janet (1991). The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 362 pages. ISBN 978-0-226-11345-6.
Sweet, Jeffrey (2004). Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and The Compass Players. Limelight Editions. pp. 386 pages. ISBN 978-0-87910-073-5.

External links[edit]

Group Creativity Project
Encyclopedia of Chicago History entry