Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Thursday, February 29

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« See a Free Performance of The MLK Project on MLK Day Inherent Vice, Predestination, Leviathan, Le jour se Lève, Compass Cabaret '55 & Remote Area Medical »

Film Thu Jan 08 2015

Compass Cabaret 55: How Chicago Became National Comedy Central

Compass Cabaret '55Second City didn't spring full grown from that stage in Old Town in the 1960s. Sketch comedy and improvisational theater has a long and storied history in Chicago, starting with a group of University of Chicago students who began performing at a bar in Hyde Park in the early '50s.

The new documentary, Compass Cabaret 55, is the story of the pioneers who invented a new form of comedy performance that led to Second City and "Saturday Night Live" and nurtured the careers of stars like Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch, Elaine May and the late Mike Nichols, and John Belushi.

The film will be shown Jan. 9 and 14 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Director Mark Siska will be present for audience discussion at both showings.

The film tells the story of the birth and growth of a new kind of comedy in Chicago by the Compass players, who first performed in Hyde Park and later moved to the north side. Interviews with many of the performers, directors and advisers are featured, including Shelley Berman, Ed Asner, Suzanne Shepherd, Mark Gordon, Sheldon Patinkin, Jeffrey Sweet, David Shepherd (cofounder of the Compass Players) and Bernie Sahlins (founder of Second City).

The story begins in 1955 with "the explosion of comedy and social satire," according to playwright Sweet, author of Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players (2004). It was a reaction to the Eisenhower-era political lethargy, but mainly to McCarthyism. "It wasn't an accident," Sweet says, "it was a reaction to the new Cossacks."

The founders of the Compass Players -- Paul Sills and David Shepherd -- wanted to produce "theater for real people." Sills thought most theater of the time was three acts of verbiage for an elite audience. They wanted to produce theater that was related to the lives of actual people. The creative genesis was theater games, developed by Viola Spolin, Sills' mother, who used them working with kids in settlement houses. Theater games generated improvisation, sketch comedy and, later, improvising on suggestions from audience members.

The 90-minute film is populated with talking heads (interesting and entertaining talking heads) and spotlights an important period in Chicago's cultural history. Compass Cabaret 55 screens at 8pm Friday, Jan. 9, and 8pm Wednesday, Jan. 14, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Tickets are $11 and $6 for members and can be bought online or at the box office.

GB store

Matt / January 12, 2015 1:33 PM

Sounds pretty cool! Any information about online or TV access?

Nancy / January 30, 2015 9:44 AM

Sorry that I can't provide more info. I've tried to reach the director without luck. If I learn anything, I'll add it here.

Nancy / March 3, 2015 12:22 PM

Just got word that the film is available on demand. Not free, however.

GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15