The AWM and Second City Honors Viola Spolin

SOLD OUT: Honoring Viola Spolin

This event is sold out.

Join the American Writers Museum as we honor the work of Viola Spolin, author and “mother” of improvisational theater whose groundbreaking work and codification of her theater games into a training method and philosophy eventually led to the creation of The Second City. A new banner will be raised in Spolin’s honor in the Wintrust Chicago Gallery. This event is free and open to the public.

The evening will include cocktails at 6:30 following by programming that will include opening remarks by museum president Carey Cranston, the unveiling of Ms. Spolin’s ceremonial bookmark to be permanently displayed at the museum, and words by writer and teacher of improvisational theater Aretha Amelia Sills, the granddaughter of Ms. Spolin and daughter of Second City co-founder Paul Sills.

In addition, the event will celebrate The Second City’s 60th anniversary and the release of The Second City: The Essentially Accurate History with an improvised discussion by moderator Mark Bazer (The Interview Show, WTTW) and talent from The Second City. Book signing to follow.

About Viola Spolin:

There would be no Second City if it were not for the work of Viola Spolin, who created and developed a system of actor training that evolved to become the modern art form of improvisation. Born in 1906, actress, social worker, and educator Viola Spolin became drama supervisor for the Works Progress Administration Recreation Project in Chicago, where she invented a series of games designed to teach dramatics to children and recent immigrants. Formalized under the rubric of “Theater Games,” the exercises gave the children hands-on experience at behaving collaboratively and empathetically.

In 1955, Spolin taught those games to actors working with her son, Paul Sills, at the University of Chicago, where their true potential to develop material and entertain audiences was uncovered. Sills used the new techniques in productions for the Playwrights Theater Club and with the Compass Players, the first improvisational theatre in America. 1960, Spolin began running improvisation workshops for the cast of The Second City, a still-new theater company Sills co-founded with Bernie Sahlins and Howard Alk.

Spolin remained an active teacher, artist, and writer until her death in 1994. Her 1963 book Improvisation for the Theater remains a classic reference text for teachers of acting and improvisation, as well as across a variety of other fields. The book defends the position that “it is highly possible that what is called talented behavior is simply a greater individual capacity for experiencing.” For more, visit

About The Second City:

Since opening its doors as a small cabaret theater in 1959, The Second City has grown into an entertainment empire. With sold-out shows playing 7 days a week on stages in Chicago and Toronto, Second City’s Touring and Theatrical companies entertain an additional 1 million theatergoers a year around the globe. The Second City Training Center is the largest school of improvisation-based arts on the planet, with locations in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles that serve 11,000 students annually. In 2016, the Harold Ramis Film launched, becoming the world’s only film school dedicated to comedy. Second City Works, the B2B side of Second City, has brought award-winning improvisation and audience-driven techniques to over 600 Fortune 1000 companies, challenging businesses seeking a more collaborative culture to innovate through development programs, original digital and video content, campaign consultation, private events, and more. Second City Entertainment’s foray into television and media continues to produce new content and programming, including two-time Emmy winner SCTV and the upcoming Martin Scorsese-helmed Netflix documentary exploring the iconic series’ enduring legacy.

Alumni of The Second City include some of the world’s foremost comedy superstars, including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Aidy Bryant, John Candy, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Richard Kind, Eugene Levy, Jack McBrayer, Tim Meadows, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Bob Odenkirk, Amy Poehler, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Sam Richardson, Joan Rivers, Amy Sedaris, Martin Short, Cecily Strong, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Willard, and many more.

The event is finished.


Feb 10 2020


6:30 pm




American Writers Museum
Chicago, Illinois

3 thoughts on “SOLD OUT: Honoring Viola Spolin

  1. Scott Hudson says:

    I have an initiative call Spice Rack to reach and experience the global communities that we share and enjoy. Would love to be in touch with peers who have similar types of initiatives.

    Viola Spolin is my inspiration for performance to facilitate social understanding and justice.

    • American Writers Museum says:

      Thanks for sharing Scott, Viola Spolin is indeed a great inspiration and we’re so happy she’s now in the Chicago Gallery!

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