Improvisational theater was born on the corner of 55th Street and University Avenue. In 1955, the Compass Players performed at this location and initially presented short, scripted “plays” at the back of a bar.
One night, the theater was performing for a capacity crowd. The bartender, Fred Wranovics, pulled director Paul Sills aside and asked him to extend the show so he could sell another round of drinks. Without any additional scripted material prepared, Sills decided to present a third act comprised entirely of improvisational games that the company had been using in rehearsal.
Needless to say, it was a huge success. Soon, the Compass Players ditched scripted material altogether in favor of improvised performances that became known for pointed social satire and political commentary
By 1958, the group splintered. Company members Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Shelly Berman went to New York where they quickly gained national acclaim. Director Paul Sills moved north and co-founded The Second City.