18 November 1927
|Died||2 June 2008
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
|Cause of death||Pneumonia|
|Residence||Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin,
|Education||B.A. from the University of Chicago|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Known for||Founding Director of The Second City and creator of Story Theater|
|Home town||Chicago, Illinois|
|Board member of||The Second City,
Founded or co-founded:
Playwrights Theater Club,
The Second City,
Sills & Co.,
Paul Sills' Wisconsin Theater Game Center,
The Parents School
|Spouse(s)||Dorothea Horton (? – ?; divorced),
Barbara Harris (1955 – 1958; divorced),
Carol Sills (? – 2008; his death)
|Parent(s)||Viola Spolin and Wilmer Silverberg|
|Awards||Theater Hall of Fame|
Life and career
Sills was born Paul Silverberg on November 18, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, to a Jewish family. His mother was teacher and writer Viola Spolin, who authored the first book on improvisation techniques, Improvisation for the Theater. Spolin in turn was the student of play therapy theorist Neva Boyd.
In 1948, Sills enrolled in the University of Chicago, where he established himself as a director, co-founding Playwright's Theater Club. There, with fellow actors Edward Asner, Byrne Piven and Zohra Lampert, they blended Spolin's improvisational techniques with established theater training.
In 1955, Sills and David Shepherd founded the Compass Players, the first improvisational theater in the US, where he directed Shelley Berman, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. In 1959, Sills, along with partners Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, opened a theatre called The Second City where revues developed improvisationally were presented under Sills's direction. With early cast members Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, Severn Darden, Mina Kolb and Paul Sand, success led to New York (a brief run on Broadway and a long one off-Broadway), London and world recognition.
Sills left Second City in 1965 to form the Game Theater, where he coached his mother's improvisational techniques in performance and audience participation was encouraged. His mother and other community friends were partners. The Parents School was co-founded there, with wife Carol and others, with a children's curriculum based on group art forms and play. It operated for almost two decades. At the Game Theater, he also discovered a new form, which he called Story Theater, which debuted at 1848 N. Wells Street, during the summer of 1968. That building was the original location of the Second City, which had already moved to its new and current location at 1616 N. Wells St. After Sills finished doing Story Theater there, it was torn down. Story Theatre went on to play at Yale University, in Los Angeles and on Broadway, remaining the form Sills explored for the rest of his life. His book, Paul Sills' Story Theater: Four Shows, was published by Applause Books.
Sills launched a further excursion into coaching Spolin theater games for performance, called Sills & Co. in the 1980s when he gathered many early Second City players to appear in Los Angeles and New York.
He started the New Actors Workshop, an acting school in midtown Manhattan with Mike Nichols and George Morrison where he led guest workshops, lectures, and directed once a year. He also founded the Wisconsin Theater Game Center with his wife Carol at his rural home in Baileys Harbor. For many years he and Carol produced annual original productions in Door County, working with a local troupe. Summer classes in Spolin theater games and Story Theatre continue to be taught there by his widow and two of their daughters, Aretha Sills and Neva Sills.
Sills's first two wives were Dorothea Horton and Barbara Harris.
Paul Sills died on June 1, 2008 at the age of 80, at his home in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin, of complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his third wife Carol, a son, four daughters, four grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
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- "There is no technique. You just need a little respect for the invisible."
- "The audience is smarter than you."
- "There's no laugh like the explosion of laughter after improvisation."
- "I've got news for you: Theatre is dead. You people just don't know it yet."
- "If this was baseball, you'd be kicked off the g**damn team!"
- "Listen, I've been doing this for 40 years, so trust me: You're not funny."
- "Get out of your f***ing head!"
- Viola Spolin (1999). Improvisation for the Theater Third Edition. ISBN 0-8101-4008-X.
- Drama as therapy: theatre as living By Phil Jones
- Coleman, Janet, The Compass, Knopf 1990, pg 16: "Until Paul Sills 'thrust' her onstage...Zohra Lampert ('52) thought, 'I might want to become...a librarian. Not an actor.'"
- Coleman, Janet, The Compass, Knopf 1990, pg 255
- Story Theatre profile at IBDb