18 November 1927
2 June 2008 (aged 80)|
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
|Cause of death||Pneumonia|
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin,|
|Education||B.A. from the University of Chicago|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Known for||Founding Director of The Second City; 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
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 in Chicago, Illinois, to a family who believed in the teachings of modern-day Judaism. 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 United States, 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, Viola Spolin'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 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.
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.
- 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 (1 November 1991). The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy. University of Chicago Press – via Google Books.
- Coleman, Janet, The Compass, Knopf 1990, pg 255
- "1967 - The Second City". secondcity.com.
- "Paul Sills' Story Theatre". www.ibdb.com.
- Sills, Paul (2000). Story Theater: Four Shows Adapted for the Stage by Paul Sills. New York, N.Y.: Applause. ISBN 1557833982.