VORG #31 april-may-june 2000


Viola Spolin, who passed away a few years ago, is the recognized mother of “improvisational” theatre. The birthing place was Chicago and the social-work community centers where Spolin developed theatre games as a creative activity for young people. Borrowing from the basic Spolin acting approaches, others found new uses, including the now famous Second City Improv Cabaret and all of its off shoots across the country. The Spolin ideas and exercises are now drawn upon by many educators throughout the U.S. for stimulating creative process in primary and secondary school classrooms.

Spolin’s “Theatre Games” have become effective exercises for creative processes that go beyond personal performance goals. For example, it has been successfully applied to idea-generating in the areas of marketing and promotional activity, as well as the supervision of people who write and perform the creative expressions of the ideas.

Spolin regarded all creative work as a problem in freedom, that is, openness of contact with the environment and each other and willingness to play. She believed that what we call talent in certain people is simply a greater individual capacity for experiencing. She said this is part of the natural human urge for self-identity and self-expression. She also believed that this self-expression is thwarted by inner negative voices more interested by our need for favorable comment or interpretation by established authority than creative openness.

In more and more radio and TV advertising performance workshops, as well as voiceover seminars, you may find instructors running Spolin exercises in order to reveal those negative voices in your life that block spontaneous expression. The first class may seem a little scary, but by the time it’s finished, you’ll have a whole new fun world open up to you, and you’ll return to the next class with intense pleasure and enthusiasm.

If you want to get ahead of any of your creative nay-sayers, consider enrolling in an improv class, especially one that rests on the assumptions and practices of Viola Spolin. You’ll find this class experience an excellent preparation for your work in VO and animation classes. It’s the introduction to a level of creative expression freedom that may make your voice-work richer and more successful.

- Avery Schreiber,
an Improv teacher of the Spolin Method.