Tamara Wilcox-Smith

"The First Lady of Improv"


Tamara was born in Soda Springs, Idaho, and grew up in Pocatello. Married straight out of high school, Tamara became a mother while still an undergraduate at Northwestern University, where she graduated with a degree in Art History. From Chicago, Tamara moved to San Francisco in the mid 1960’s. By then a single mother, she began her career in the theater in the costume department at San Francisco’s Actor’s Conservatory Theater (ACT). She also worked as "Girl Friday" to the head of a traveling Irish theater company, where she did everything from making costumes to taking tickets at the door.


From there, Tamara began studying improvisational theater with Del Close, one of the members of The Compass Players, the group that gave birth to American improvisational theater. She became a member of Del’s legendary improvisational company, The Committee, as well as a member of the experimental company, THE EXPERIMENTAL WING. Tamara was a part of the group that helped develop "The Harold", an extended improvisational piece which is performed by improv companies all over the world. Living at Haight and Asbury (literally), Tamara also befriended and made costumes for some of the musical icons of that era, including Janis Joplin.


From the stage of THE COMMITTEE, Tamara was cast by Robert Altman as one of the nurses in his film "M*A*S*H" (a film that was highly improvised). She moved to LA to do the film, and after a brief stint with the LA COMMITTEE, she packed up her son and pregnant dog and moved to New York City. Once there, Tamara became one of the guest directors at the Loft Theater, along with Alan Alda, Peter Boyle, Elaine May, David Sheperd, and David Dozier.


Tamara began teaching improvisation in New York to develop her own improvisation company. Shortly thereafter, INTERPLAY was born, with original cast members which included Jerry Seinfeld and Allyce Beasley. Tamara was named Best Director by the National Academy of Concert and Cabaret Artists for her direction of INTERPLAY. This award -winning improvisational comedy ensemble has performed in concerts and cabarets across America—most recently completing a run at Los Angeles’ famed Cinegrill. The group has also performed at international political and cultural events including the Democratic Caucus and an International Peace Conference in Prague, hosted by Vaclav Havel.


After teaching and directing improvisational theater and comedy workshops across the USA for more than fifteen years, Tamara founded and became Artistic Director of the National Improvisational Theatre in New York City in 1984. Here, Tamara created an extensive improvisation-based curriculum. Graduates of Tamara’s classes include many of America’s finest comedians, actors, directors, and writers, including Jerry Seinfeld, Rita Rudner, Allyce Beasley, Rich Hall, Griffin Dunne, Sasha Mitchell, Talisa Soto, and Michael Preminger. Tamara also taught workshops in Los Angeles where her graduates include Joey Lawrence, Isaac Hayes, Kelly Preston, Jenna Elfman, and Kate Vernon.


Tamara directed scenes from What’s Wrong With This Picture?, a comedy film starring members of INTERPLAY, with special guest appearance by Paul Newman. The piece was exhibited at the Independent Feature Project in New York City.


For television she served as Executive Producer on LATE DATE, a series pilot produced by The Fred Silverman Company. She directed members of INTERPLAY on the Peabody Award nominated cartoon segment of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, as well as programs on improvisational theater on Ars Nova for Bravo.


She also directed Musical Revues and concerts, including The Gloria Gaynor Experience at Madison Square Garden (for which she also served as costume designer).


Tamara and the faculty she trained at N.I.T. extended her improvisational curriculum out into the community, teaching thousands of handicapped, Special Education, and English As A Second Language children in the New York City schools. Tamara also established a theater program at the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City. Among the students trained in Tamara’s techniques at P.P.A.S. were Clare Danes, Gaby Hoffman, and Daisy Eagan. Tamara and her staff also created programs which were delivered at Paul Newman’s Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, and at the O’Neill Theatre Festival.


Tamara also directed and taught workshops at numerous colleges and festivals including the National Critics Institute, The O’Neill Theatre Festival, Princeton University, New York University, and the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis. She directed workshops with members of Congress at the Democratic Caucus at Greenbriar in West Virginia.


In addition, Tamara is a published author of Children’s Books, produced playwright, and writer of nearly a dozen screenplays and treatments for films. As an actress, Tamara’s other film credits include "Pontiac Moon" directed by Peter Medak, "Bad" directed by Paul Morrissey, and "Rivals" directed by Krishna Shah.


Tamara is consider an authority on teaching and directing comedy and improvisation. She was dubbed "The First Lady of Improv" by the New York press.