Longform Improv was Invented in a Kitchen in St. Louis’ Gaslight Square
A long time ago, in a city not too far away, an old-money set of brothers were gallivanting in the bustling
metropolis of Chicago. During their time in the Windy City, the Landesman brothers would see a sketch
comedy troupe called the Compass Players. They fell in love with the comedy they saw in Hyde Park and
invited Theodore Flicker & his Compass Players company of: David Shepherd, Jo Henderson, Severn
Darden, Nancy Ponder, Elanie May, Del Close, and Mike Nichols to play their funnies for the pre-opera
crowd at their swanky bar in Gaslight Square called The Crystal Palace for a 7-month run. Outside of
improv, many comedians, musicians & entertainers played and/or got their start here in Gaslight
Square: Phyllis Diller, The Smothers Brothers, Miles Davis, Lenny Bruce, Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen,
& Jerry Stiller just to name a few. There’s a monument where the neighborhood existed with some tiny
columns and even more names of stars who kick-started their careers in Gaslight Square.
The Landesman Brothers allowed the Compass Players to live in a wing of their mansion on Westminster
Place, not far from where Gaslight Square was located in the late 1950’s (Just East of the current Central
West End). In the mornings before shows, the troupe would cook breakfast together, all the while
discussing and developing pivotal rules for performing longform improvisation in front of a live
audience. They based these rules on the previous night’s shows; what worked and what didn’t. This set
of rules for longform improvisation remain tenants taught at every improv theater across the country.
They are commonly referred to as the
WESTMINSTER PLACE KITCHEN RULES:
1. Agree to the reality your scene partner(s) have laid out; don’t deny
2. Choose to play characters on-stage that are 90% you, just exaggerated & intensified
3. Make an active versus passive choice; “Take the unlikely choice”
Essentially every move is right in improv, but there are moves that tend to be stronger than others. The
Westminster Place Kitchen Rules allowed the players to find avenues together in which they could
present realities on-stage for patrons. They enjoyed portraying some of the more intense relationships,
exploring topics that often would jolt the middle-class pre-opera crowds who came to see them. They
did all of this until 1959, when they all shotgunned out across the country to open improv theaters and
explore more what they found together here in St. Louis and begin teaching it in various ways to
comedians from coast-to-coast.
Thanks to plenty of dedicated individuals, improvisation never left St. Louis. Refined over the past 50
years, improv theaters such as ComedySportz, The Improv Trick, and The Improv Shop have created
training and performance spaces for local comedians and everyday “Joes” & “Janes” to learn the craft.
Compass Improv and Flyover Festival have created avenues to bring in improv acts from across the
country to come back to where it all began and perform for the city at large.
Hark! Is a musical improv troupe in St. Louis that has existed since 2015. All members of Hark! are
graduates of The Improv Shop longform improvisation training center in The Grove. Hark! performs
sporadically throughout the year at The Improv Shop, The Heavy Anchor, Bar 101, Fringe Festival,
Compass Improv Festival, & the Flyover Festival. Hark! performs a improvised musical fairytale for every
show (except for Fringe; we’ll be doing 2 Fairytales back-to-back each show!). The fairytale is a real
fairytale, taken from an audience member’s suggestion and spun into about 30 minutes of improvised
“Fractured Fairytales”. Nothing has been rehearsed, we have no lines or go-to songs; everything is made
up on-the-spot. Each scene will turn into a song, unveiling and unleashing our characters’ true emotions
and desires! Taking from the Compass Players, Hark! finds many ways to poke fun at the underlying
problems within these fairytales as they relate to societal issues today. Most fairytales are littered with
various forms of misogyny and political and/or economic strife, so it’s never difficult to find a theme to
explore and show the audience a new side of an old coin.
Which Fairytales Would You Like Us to Fracture?
Join Hark! & Let Us Know On:
August 16 th at 7:30 PM, or
August 17 th at 9 PM, or
August 18 th at 6 PM
*All shows are at the .ZACK Pop-up 303 Theater
Hark! Is accompanied on guitar by both Erik Diaz and Ryan Myers. They rotate show-to-show, so that
one can improvise in a show while the other accompanies, as both are skillful improvisers and Harold
House Team members at The Improv Shop. The rest of the team is comprised of (in order of seniority):
Sean Madden, Una McGarry, Jesslyn Vezeau-Shipp, Anna Drehmer, Ryan Gist, Erin Moore, & Kaitlyn
Forks. Hark! Is coached by Improv veteran, Stephanie Howes.