American theatre director
One of the cornerstone
s of theatrical improvisation
in the United States
along with Viola Spolin
and Paul Sills
. Close, who dedicated his
to the art form, is often credited
with bringing legitimacy
in the U.S.
After a stint with the St. Louis cast of the Compass Players in 1957,
Close went to New York for a brief stint as a hip stand up comic.
In 1961, he moved to Chicago to join the cast of Second City until 1965,
when he was fired for substance abuse (Close was a heroin addict).
He then moved to San Francisco, where he dropped acid with the Merry Pranksters,
created light shows for the Grateful Dead, and helped organize San Francisco's
counterculture satire and improv troupe, The Committee.
Back to Chicago in 1970, where, in his workshops at the
Kingston Mines Company Store, he developed and trained improvisers in the
longform style that would become his legacy to the improv community, the Harold.
I have a grandiose idea of what free improvisation would look like. You go out in the beginning of the evening, get a series of suggestions
from the audience, go on through the evening and at the end perform something like the equivalent of a play that doesn't look like a play- it's sort of like
designing a 707 in flight. You're out there and you have a few simple rules to follow. The idea is that each of these improvised plays develops a form and
structure that is particularly suited to the subject mattter.
Close was the resident director at Second City, where
he trained comedians like John Belushi
, Bill Murray
, John Candy
He left to found the ImprovOlympic
with Charna Halpern.
Before he died of emphysema, he wrote in his will that after death, his skull
should go to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
It was kept in a cardboard box labelled "Warning - Del's Skull - Do Not Put Anything
on Top - Do Not Open" in the ImprovOlympic office before it was moved into a clear lucite basketball display box with red velvet for the presentation. At the ceremony, Artistic Director Robert Falls
took the skull out of the box and held it in the classical Hamlet/Yorick pose - the
photo made the front page of the Chicago Tribune.
Del Close's published work includes:
A spoken word album with John Brent, How to Speak Hip, the transcript
of which still finds its way to the Web uncredited;
Truth in Comedy: a Manual for Improvisation, a book written with Charna Halpern;
and several issues of Wasteland (DC comics), which he co-wrote with John Ostrander.