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The Compass

The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy

Janet Coleman brilliantly recreates the time, the place, the personalities, and the neurotic magic whereby the Compass made theater history in America. The Compass began in a storefront theater near the University of Chicago campus in the summer of 1955 and lasted only a few years before its players—including David Shepherd, Paul Sills, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, Barbara Harris, and Shelley Berman—moved on. Out of this group was born a new form: improvisational theater and a radically new kind of comedian. "They did not plan to be funny or to change the course of comedy," writes Coleman. "But that is what happened."

"For anyone who is interested in theatre, underground theatre, improvisational theatre, and the sheer madness of trying something new with a repertory group, The Compass will prove a welcome history with fascinating details."—Norman Mailer

"Janet Coleman has done a spectacular job of capturing the history, the almost alarmingly diverse cultural influences, and the extraordinary people who made up the Compass."—Neal Weaver, Los Angeles Village View

"Engrossing. . . . An open window on a part of the theater that should be known."—Arthur Miller

"A valuable chronicle of an important chapter in the history of comedy and theater."—William Wolf, New York Observer

"The eruptive, disruptive talents who made the theater memorable are the same ones who make The Compass a good read."—Jay Cocks, Time

"A moving, inspirational, anecdote-studded feast."—Publishers Weekly

362 pages | 46 halftones | 6 x 9-1/4 | © 1990

Centennial Publications of the University of Chicago Press

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Table of Contents

Preface
1. The Hutchins Plan
2. Tonight at 8:30: Connections Are Made
3. The High Priestess
4. The Great Director
5. David Shepherd’s Dream
6. Shepherd Meets Sills
7. The Playwrights Theatre Club
8. Playwrights’ Second Year
9. Enterprise
10. Viola’s Workshop
11. The Early Compass
12. The Summer Ends
13. Enter the Actors
14. "Dump Us At the Cock"
15. An Escalation of Scenes
16. Out of Step at the Argo Off-Beat Room
17. Another Enterprise
18. The Atomic Compass
19. Meet Me in St. Louis
20. A Harder Game of Hurt
21. Explosions
22. Aftershocks
23. Fallout
24. Radiation
25. Radiation Burns
26. Nuclear Winter and Infrared Spring
27. The Point of the Compass
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

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