Since we last checked in, much has been accomplished. We’re bearing down on our fundraising, editing our first episode (1963-66), lining up our next interviews, and more.
We are fully ensconced in our headquarters – the incubator program at Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco. The space accommodates three workstations, a projection screen, and centralized storage for our growing digital and physical archive of Committee-related materials. We also have access to a 60-seat screening room which we used just this month for a viewing of Jerry Wainwright’s photography archives with Jerry’s family & interested parties. We love it here.
In the coming months we’ll host an office-warming, listening parties and screenings to support our vision of the episodic documentary The Committee: A Secret History of American Comedy. Stay tuned.
Interested and able parties can now support our work with a tax-deductible donation of cash, stock, or securities via our fiscal sponsor SFFILM. Our 2013 Kickstarter funds – which paid for most of our 30 + interviews – have been depleted, so we’re fortunate to have SFFILM as a partner as we begin a new round of fundraising.
Since January we’ve raised more than $10,000 in new funds, including a significant boost from the family of Committee friend and investor Maxwell Myers. We are looking to bulk up our production team, as well as our army of patrons. Please consider spreading the word about our project. We are confident in the demand for The Committee’s story, and we will pitch this project to anyone, anywhere.
Here are some more highlights from the last few months:
- We interviewed Ronnie Davis at his San Francisco home in February. Ronnie was a great host and subject, and gave us a very well-argued contrarian point of view regarding improvisational theater (and much more).
- We interviewed Kathy Lerner, Alan’s secretary and ex-wife of cast member Howard Hesseman. Kathy was forthcoming about the position of women in the counterculture, giving us an important point of view to consider in the #MeToo era and a lot of think about.
- We are finishing integrating new project management tools that are further organizing and tracking our work and allowing us to fold in volunteers and new team members into our project. This is a huge help in ensuring that we don’t lose track of the hundreds of archive elements and many investigative threads that we’ve discovered since we started.
- We uncovered a new piece of gold: The Marin County Medical Society-produced, Sid Davis Productions-distributed 18 minute educational short Too Tough to Care (1964). This hilarious piece of satire captures original Committe castmembers Scott Beach, Larry Hankin, Hamilton Camp, Dick Stahl, and Garry Goodrow, within two years of their arrival to San Francisco. This piece is smart, well-performed, and totally prescient, considering the tobacco-related lawsuits of the generations that followed. Enjoy.
Thanks for your interest in The Committee: A Secret History of American Comedy. We are always on the hunt for archival material – home movies, audio tape, print ads, whatever. If you’re sitting on something that might be valuable to our story, we’d like to see it. Hit us up!
Jamie Wright and Sam Shaw
There was a lot we wanted to ask David Ogden Stiers about a wide range of subjects.
David Ogden Stiers was approached twice by Alan Myerson to join The Committee, until he finally signed on in the summer of 1967, performing alongside Don Sturdy at The Committee Theater (“America Hurrah”, directed by Joe Chaikin) and then with the revue players at 622 Montgomery. 1967-68 was a peak transition year for The Committee, when the company was preparing to open up a run at The Tiffany in Los Angeles while maintaining two theaters in San Francisco and expanding its workshop program.
Stiers performed in two Del Close-directed shows at 622 Broadway in late 1967 and early 1968 and it’s a joy to imagine Stiers arriving at Juilliard with an understanding of the earliest beginnings of longform improvisation (The Committee’s fall ‘67 show included a Harold) and the experience of playing with Committee performers old and new, from Garry Goodrow to Gary Austin.
He flew east for Juilliard in 1968, but not before joining in on the fun at The Committee’s June Satirathon, which featured pretty much everybody. That Satirathon was recorded in full, and maybe someday we’ll find a full tape and hear him improvise, or even ask for suggestions. For now, we’ll settle with this gorgeous picture of David Ogden Stiers from that night, shot by the late John Byrne Cooke. RIP.
As we continue to research The Committee and interview members of its cast and community for our documentary film, it’s become clear that we are truly building the airplane while we are flying it. When we started, we imagined that our story would be a straight-forward, feature-length, “talking head” style documentary, with a heavy reliance on archival material.
Instead, given the nature of what we’ve uncovered in our research, we’re now producing the project as an episodic documentary, currently structured to be told in five parts. It is our intention not only to tell the story of The Committee, but also to shine a light on the particular joys and struggles of the individuals involved, and put their achievements in the context of their time.
We recognize that this is an ambitious vision. To help us toward this end, we have recently formed two important partnerships. The San Francisco Film Society (SFFILM) has taken us on as our fiscal sponsor, a partnership that will allow us to receive institutional grant funding and tax-deductible donations from individuals. This fiscal sponsorship is a key tool for fundraising and we can’t wait to introduce our project to funders, individuals and foundations alike.
Our second partner – Ninth Street Independent Film Center – has accepted us into their Incubator Program, which will allow us the use of an office space and screening room subsidized by The San Francisco Film Commission. We will move into the office, located in San Francisco’s Civic Center, later in the fall.
We’ve been working on this project for over five years at this point, and feel that our tilt to episodic storytelling, a fiscal sponsor, and workspace are major breakthroughs and will help us move faster and more efficiently. We will update this blog and our Facebook page with news of events and screenings. Thanks for your support and interest.
We had an amazing time this weekend visiting the Summer of Love exhibit at the de Young Museum with none other than Lisa Law (Flashing on The Sixties, The Hog Farm, The Jook Savages, and much more). Lisa photographed everything in the sixties, from Committee performances in San Francisco and LA, to Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Further, and everywhere else. Thanks, Lisa, for letting us tag along,
We lost another pioneer this week with the death of Gary Austin. When The Committee started its run at The Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles, Gary joined the cast in San Francisco under the direction of Del Close, and he was part of the company when it made its early breakthroughs in longform improvisational theater. Austin continued on with The Committee with various ensembles under various directors, evidently soaking up everything he quickly learned. It’s hard to imagine that The Committee’s cultural influence would be so widespread without Austin to evangelize their work. The Groundlings, which Austin founded in 1974, became a force in comedy that for years was matched only by The Second City in the talent that it attracted and nurtured. As a teacher of acting for forty years, Austin helped players bring their full selves to the stage and to play at the top of their intelligence. Thanks, Gary, for your commitment to elevating the art form and for your life of service.