John Pappas, an actor, writer, and artist originally from Oakland and now living in Los Angeles, studied with Cindy Kamler at The Committee Workshop in the early ’70s. We’re grateful that he shared with us his memories of those times, as well as images from his own collection and website, which we are posting below with his permission.
“There was nothing better than grabbing a large coffee in a styrofoam cup at Zim’s, and heading up to 622 Broadway, paying a dollar and spending an entire afternoon at The Committee, learning to do a Harold, an Emotional Symphony, Story Story, or rolling around on the floor in a group grope in the theatre lobby. The Committee was the goal.”
“I wanted to one day be in that awesome theatre company by attending Committee workshops, learning the improvisational techniques and games of Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, and Del Close, at that particular time taught by Cindy Kamler.”
“Doesn’t matter how it turned out. It was the best of times and of course all of it was in the Bay Area back in the day and everything was the best of times back then.”
“There were all kinds of stories, folklore, rumors and gossip being passed around. But what did I know? I just wanted to be an actor. And at this particular time, I wanted to be an actor in this theatre company. One of the stories or rumors I recall was how Bill Love who worked at The Committee, (I still don’t know what his title was but I think he was in charge of the actual building), anyway there’s a tale about Bill and John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. I don’t remember if John Brent told me this or who. Might have been John since we became friends a couple years after The Committee closed and he moved to L.A. with his girlfriend at the time, Elena Stoyanov. Elena was a former member of Cindy Kamler’s Improvisation Inc. and in Sills‘ Story Theatre at The Committee. The story was that John Sebastian snitched out Bill Love during some kind of grass bust, not sure how much grass was involved. I’ll say this though, with my commitment to The Committee, my mentors, this pissed me off and it’s been only a couple of years since I’ve once again, allowed myself to listen to The Lovin’ Spoonful and to be honest, it is good to let things go.”
“I’d seen shows and seen my mentors. I had heard that The Committee might be closing soon. I didn’t know any of the details as to why. I knew The Wing, formerly known as the Experimental Wing of The Committee, directed by Cindy Kamler, was having their own issues and The Wing was moving on without Cindy. They had a gig doing shows and workshops at the Savoy Tivoli on Upper Grant. Things continued for a while and a new group formed. The Committee Workshop, headed by Cindy Kamler and her boyfriend Hal Taylor, a former member of The Wing. All I knew was, as a workshop participant, I got to be in The Committee Workshop which had become a theatre troupe and not just a workshop. We got to improvise on stage at The Committee on Monday nights, the dark night for The Committee and the night The Wing had their gig. This was a-okay with me ‘cause as I said before, I was down with The Committee and I wanted to be a part of the company.
When things got a little more stirred, Cindy and Hal had us working Monday nights at The Committee and elsewhere. Then, Cindy gets a telegram from Del saying the whole thing is done and over.”
“Wikipedia has an article defining what a Harold is, and Cindy Kamler isn’t mentioned, though others are. Cindy and Del Close were tight and Cindy was Del’s protege for some time. Without Cindy, the Harold could have died, at least in the Bay Area at that point. Since The Committee had stopped doing Harolds, or as far as I remember doing any more long-form improvisational pieces, who would carry on? The Wing didn’t do Harolds, as far as I know. Neither did the Pitchel Players. Perhaps they did on occasion but from what I remember I don’t believe they did. The Committee did Harolds but I never had the opportunity to see anything other than the sketches they did. I wish I could’ve seen The Committee doing Harolds, I bet they were amazing. I don’t know of any improv group in the Bay Area that continued to use Harold in a performance. I know Del kept it going in Chicago and others on the East Coast used it. But in the Bay Area Cindy kept it alive and I think she deserved to be mentioned.
When The Committee had its final blackout, The Wing was at The Tivoli. Paul Sills reopened The Committee Theatre to do a run of Story Theatre. Improv Inc. was doing Harolds above a Sav-On at 149 Powell Street.
I only got to meet Del once. It was at one of the workshops. He didn’t even do anything, he just dropped by to say hello to Cindy. Everyone at the workshop was in awe. We were introduced to
Mr. Del Close, the legendary inventor, creator, however or whatever you want to call it, the man who gave the world the Harold. From how I heard it, Del was trying to improvise a play. And that is in a way what we were doing. The show The Committee Workshop and Improvisation Inc. was doing was like a two act play. The first act was playful. The order would change but generally speaking it consisted of Story Story, an Emotional Symphony or Concerto, a two person spot, a three person spot, some transformations and maybe a few more theatre games to fill the first act. I believe that was the same line up The Committee used to do but as I stated, I never got to see it.
We had already close to a year performing at the New Orleans house in Berkeley booked as The Committee Workshop. We toured colleges in Nor Cal, So Cal, Oregon and Washington state. We even hit Ashland and improvised at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. We used to work the Marin County Renaissance Faire. Soon after, The Committee Workshop moved to their own space above a Sav-On drugstore down at 149 Powell Street, taking on the new and improved moniker, Improvisation Incorporated or Improv Inc.”