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n r e d o M f o h t ir The B

T h e a t r ic a l Im p r o v is a t io n

a documentary by Mark SISKA SISKAfilms presents in association with studio 207 a documentary by Mark SISKA featuring: david shepHerd shelley berman ed asner Cinematography by Marcin Szalkowski and Wes Cardino Edited By Stephen Buckley AND Jesse Stratton motion graphics and titles by Michael arce Music Director Jeremy Jacobsen Original Music By Charles Gorczynsk Sound Recorded by Phil Marmet AND ChrisTOPHER V. Smith executive producer Mark SISKA produced and Directed by Mark SISKA

About: The years was 1955. Joseph McCarthy and his House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. And a small group of students at the University of Chicago known as The Compass was creating what would eventually become modern improvisational theater. Compass helped spawn Chicago’s premiere improv venue, The Second City, preceding it by half a decade, as well as Saturday Night Live, which first aired 20 years after the Hyde Park group’s first performance. The Compass Theater was founded by David Shepherd and Paul Sills in 1955. The University of Chicago did not have a theater department at the time, and Sills was training actors in an improvisational style developed by his mother, Viola Spolin. Spolin created the improvisational games during the Great Depression, while working with poor children in Chicago. Shepherd, originally from Manhattan felt the theater there was expensive, atrophied and inaccessible, and he had moved to Chicago in the 1950s with the goal of bringing theater to the common man. “Theater in New York was very effete and based on three-act plays and based on verbiage and there was not much action,” he said. “This would not be of interest to people in the street. I was interested in popular theater. I wanted to create a theater that would drag people off the street and seat them not in rows but at tables and give them something to drink, which was unheard of in [American] theater.”

(Timothy Inklebarger)

DIRECTORS BIO SiskaFilms ( is Chicago filmmaker Mark Siska’s production company, which is affiliated with Studio 207 ( Siska began Studio 207 in 2002 after finishing several projects in Europe. He founded Euro Underground ( in 1996 after he broke from the Chicago Underground Film Festival, of which he had been a co-founder. Euro Underground was a vehicle to showcase American and European Underground, as well as true indpendent films, and tour with them in various European cities, according to Siska. As he was curating and organizing festivals, he worked with a number of talented film makers in Europe. “I was able to network with a lot of great artists, film makers and musicians,” Siska stated. “On a trip to Krakow, Poland, I had organized a retrospective for the well-known director Lech Kowalski ( During the festival, some local punks showed up and started chatting with Kowalski and me. It turned out these fascinating characters produced hand-made boots. Kowalski was able to envision a documentary and I had a video camera and the next day we were embedded with the punks Kowalski-style and I was co-lensing the documentary with him.” The documentary, named The Boot Factory, showed all over Europe and won the French Auteurs Best Documentary for 2001 and aired on Arte’ French and German TV. “After working in Europe for six years, I had the opportunity to buy a loft in a converted tool and dye factory in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Euro Underground was winding down and I had expanded into Asia. I was invited to show my own work and curate a program for The Bangkok Experimental Film Festival in Bangkok, Thailand, where I was able to meet and work with Apichatpong Weerasethankul,” winner of 2010 Palme D’ Or at Cannes Film Festival for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. ( ( I am currently finishing up Compass Cabaret 55. A Historical Survey of the Birth of American Improvisational Theater. It has been 5 years in the making and I have interviewed 20 people in Chicago, NYC and Los Angles. “ I met David Shepherd through the Prop Theater in Chicago. Originally, he had started the group Compass with Paul Sills in the 50’s. At the time I met David he was doing improvisational films. I liked his style of mixing improvisors with non-actors. I f we needed a real estate agent to play a part, David would cast an actual agent rather than an actor. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t; but it was fresh and real. “During that time, I was reading about the history of Improv and it struck me that it was odd that Compass slowly was being forgotten and that there was no comprehensive documentary about it. America does not have a lot of its own art forms. America gave birth to Jazz, Blues, Rock, Gospel, Soul, Rap, Abstract Expressionism and Graffiti. American Improvisational Theater is an art form truly unique to America. Although based on a European model, Shepherd was able to make it American. He is an idea man, the innovator and visionary who defined the style and introduced Improv to America as any art form,” Siska explained. Grants: The Governors International Arts Exchange Program of the Illinois Art Council, Soros Grant for Contemporary Art, US Consultant Belgium, Austrian Consultant US, Stefan Batory Grant, Illinois Art Council, Community Arts Assistance Program Grant City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

CAST David Shepherd producer and director of the first improvisational theatre in America, COMPASS Cabaret, founded in Chicago in 1955. Shelley Berman one of the first COMPASS members to leave a career in NYC to join COMPASS. On its stage he perfected his telephone monologs that later made him famous on TV and comedy recordings. Most recently appeared in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Ed Asner acted with Playwrights Theatre Club. Went on to star in TV and films, most recently “UP”. Played Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and starred in Lou Grant. Andrew Duncan played straight man at both COMPASS and Second City. He watched the development of the cast into what he called “Cultural Bandits”. He then went on to act in theatre and performed character roles in such films as “Slapshot.” Mark Gordon came from a conventional stage background in NYC, joined COMPASS with his wife Bobbi. Together, they provided both surreal execution and solid realism in their performances. He appeared in the Woody Allen film “Take The Money and Run” and on the Mary Tyler Moore TV Show as Chuckles the Clown. Suzanne “Honey” Shepherd joined the Hyannis COMPASS company in 1963, playing at the Yachtsman Motel with Alan Alda, Ron Weyand and Dianna Sands. She coached Alda in character development. Teaches Theatre at NYU and is a director of plays by Athol Fugard. She has appeared in 32 films . Played Henry Hill’s mother-in-law in Goodfellas and Tony Soprano’s mother-in-law in the Sopranos. Larry Arrick director of COMPASS. Yale Theatre professor. Janet Coleman wrote the book, Compass: Historical Survey of the History of Compass. 1955-1963. Charles Jacobs was Paul Sills’ roommate at The University of Chicago. He was also the business manager and third partner of David Shepherd and Paul Sills.

Cast Abner Mikva former U.S. Representative, federal judge and law professor. He helped Mike Nichols and Elaine May frame satirical material about Senator Joseph McCarthy from a legal point of view. Leo Stodolsky Director Emeritus of the Max Planck Institute, in Germany. Played in a satire about free enterprise, performed at The University of Chicago, that stirred up the first interest in the COMPASS format and brought forth its first investor. Jane Mathers writer, Hyde Park historian. Richard Orlikoff Lawyer for Playwrights Theatre Club, the group from which COMPASS evolved. Bernie Sahlins founder and producer of Second City. Second City absorbed the talents of COMPASS. Josephine Forsberg producer of theatre companies, children’s theatre and training programs. First teacher at Second City. Jonathan Pitts director of Chicago Improv Festival Charna Halpern co-founder of I.O. (Improv Olympics) Rolf Forsberg director of Playwrights Theatre Club Leah Rochal actress in plays with Shelley Berman


Executive Producer Mark Siska Produced and Directed By Mark Siska Please See Producer/Director Bio Page Cinematography by Marcin Szalkowski

Marcin Szalkowski is a Chicago based cinematographer whose credits include: Camera and Electrical Department: Transformers, Chicago Overcoat, The Unborn, The Dark Night. Cinematographer credits include: The Exemption of Hunter Riley, Burning Desire, Housekeeper, Little Village, Last Dance and Compass Cabaret 55.

Additional Camera: Wes Cardino

Wes Cardino holds a graduate degree in cinematography from the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the State University of New York’s Purchase College Film Conservatory, where he graduated magna cum laude with a concentration in cinematography, recently awarded honorable mention from the American Society of Cinematography (ASC).

Edited By Jesse Stratton

Jesse Stratton has worked professionally in NYC and Chicago as an editor and writer. Jesse also is a theatre director and works for National Pasttime Theatre in Chicago, where he directed Soul One this past spring. Jesse is currently working for Retrospective Pictures in Chicago as an editor. Documentaries: Compass Cabaret 55.

2nd Editor/Color Correction/Sound Mix by Stephen Buckley

Cinematography, Editing, Visual FX and Sound Design: Guerrilla Monster Films, Memphis, independent film company specializing in producing feature films and music videos. Feature credits include: Cigarette Girl, Teenage Tupelo, Superstarlet A.D., The Sore Losers: Music Videos, The Hives, Jesse and Noah, The True Lovers, The Makers, Guitar Wolf, The Flakes and Elvis meets the Beatles. Documentaries: Compass Cabaret 55.

Motion Graphics and Titles: Michael Arce

Michael Arce is a Chicago based motion graphics artist. He holds a bachelor in visual communications from The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago. He has worked as a motion graphics designer. Clients include RPM Visual Media, Pinnacle Advertising /Marketing Group. Documentaries: Compass Cabaret 55. He manages Papaya Design Studio, a graphic design and motion studio.

Music Director Jeremy Jacobsen

The Chicago musician Jeremy Jacobsen, better known as the Lonesome Organist, is a true one-man band. His simultaneous proficiency with a wide variety of instruments -- including the organ, drums, guitar, harmonica, toy piano, tap-shoes, and steel drum -- makes his music suitable for a variety hour or a circus show as well as a rock album. Never lacking in novelty, the Lonesome Organist mixed styles such as rock, yodeling, blues, circus music, and soundtrack music on his records. He collaborated with bands such as the Blues Explosion, 5ive Style, and Euphone.

Original Music Score By Charles Gorczynski

Charles Gorczynski plays woodwinds and electronics in Oakland California. He co-leads Colorlist (482 Music, Serein) with drummer Charles Rumback, Silences (Ropeadope) and Spinach Prince with Thomas Faulds and Elliot Ross, Redwood tango ensemble with Holly Mead. Charles has contributed to over 25 records and films over the last decade, recording or playing with: Spinach Prince, Pulse Programming, L’altra, Apparat, Tomorrow Music Orchestra, Leaves, The Drastics, Via Tania, Kibosh, Salamander, Hudson Harrington Berry, Video Gum Culture, Mark Siska’s Studio 207, Compass Cabaret 55, Umphrey’s Mcgee, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Head with Wings, and Matt Ulery’s Loom. “A force in modern sound design...” -Jazz Times



Siska Films Mark Siska 2418 W. Bllomingdale #207 Chciago IL, 60647 (773) 292-9261 facebook/compasscabret55

it [Compass] had everything to do with david shepherd” Shelley Berman actor writer comedian compass improvisor


As a founding member and artistic director of the Prop Thtr in Chicago, celebrating our 30th season of presenting new work, we welcome this amazing and important film which contextualizes our history as well as presenting many much neglected aspects of what makes Chicago theater the specific form of success that it has been heralded to be. Not only was Compass the begining of a popular storefront tradition, it also derived an aesthetic which - unlike a New York orientation to the filtered teachings of Stanislavski - was oriented toward a theatrical style exemplified by Bertolt Brecht. His company, The Berliner Ensemble, although banned by the McCarthy period government in the US from traveling here, was the leading postwar innovator of theatrical presentation. The choice of Playwrights Theatre Club which became Compass to open with “Caucasian Chalk Circle” and to encourage an awake and critical audience helped open up an isolated American audience to that renewal. To this day, the vibrancy of Chicago theater owes Compass - and Brecht - much for its distinctive and flourishing existence. Also the augmenting of known history with a more complete picture of the role played by David Shepherd - who also played an important role in our formative years - is a welcome and particularily touching aspect this film succeeds in. I look forward to sharing this excellent film with my audiences, my co-workers, youth and city visitors who appreciate our unique theater wealth but lack the historical context so important for full appreciation - not only of what was but also of what we now still enjoy.

(Stefan BrÜn)

Compass didn’t plan to change the course of comedy but thats what happened” Janet Coleman AUTHOR compass

compass taught us how to create on our feet”

Jerry stiller and anne meara actor and former st. louis compass improvisors

Compass Cabaret 55  
Compass Cabaret 55  

A Documentary By Mark Siska