The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Viola Spolin

November 7, 1906–November 22, 1994

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Viola Spolin until we are able to commission a full entry.

Viola Spolin.

Courtesy of Intuitive Learning Systems.

Searching for play therapies that could reach at-risk children, Viola Spolin created the “Theater Games” that gave rise to improv theater. Spolin studied social work at Neva Boyd’s Group Work School in Chicago from 1924–1927, learning to use games to break through children’s social and emotional barriers. She taught at several settlement houses before becoming drama supervisor for the WPA’s Recreational Project from 1939–1941, where she created a system to train others in using improvisational games and skits to unlock children’s creative self-expression. She founded the Young Actors Company in Hollywood in 1946, guiding children as young as six through Theater Games, then returned to Chicago in 1955 to direct for the Playwright’s Theater Club and run games workshops for the Compass Players, the first professional improv acting company. From 1960–1965 she directed workshops for the Second City Company, and in 1965 co-founded the Playroom School, a cooperative elementary school. In 1963 she published Improvisation for the Theater, the first of several books offering ideas for improv exercises and creating successful group dynamics.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Viola Spolin." (Viewed on June 9, 2023) <>.


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