×

Tamara Wilcox-Smith dies at 57

Founder of NIT was '1st Lady of Improv'

Tamara Wilcox-Smith, dubbed “The First Lady of Improv” by the New York press, died Jan. 30 of heart failure in Los Angeles. She was 57.

After a start as a costume designer for San Francisco theater, Wilcox-Smith’s career began taking shape in the mid-1960s while studying improv with Del Close. She became a member of his legendary improv company, the Committee, as well as a member of the experimental theater company the Wing. After seeing her perform, Robert Altman cast her as one of the nurses in the film “MASH.”

Wilcox-Smith moved to New York and became a guest director at the Loft Theater, along with Alan Alda, Peter Boyle and Elaine May. She began teaching improv and developed her own company, Interplay, an award-winning group whose original cast members included Jerry Seinfeld and Allyce Beaseley.

In 1984, after having taught and directed improv theater and comedy workshops across the country for 15 years, Wilcox-Smith founded and became artistic director of the National Improvisational Theatre in New York City. Graduates of NIT include many acclaimed comedians, actors, directors and writers, including Seinfeld, Beaseley, Rita Rudner, Griffin Dunne, Rich Hall and Sasha Mitchell. She also taught workshops in Los Angeles, where her graduates include Jenna Elfman, Isaac Hayes, Kelly Preston and Kate Vernon.

Popular on Variety

Through NIT, Wilcox-Smith’s improvisational curriculum was extended to the community, reaching thousands of handicapped, special education and English as a second language students in the New York City schools.

She also established a program at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School as well as programs for Paul Newman’s Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut and at the O’Neill Theatre Festival.

Wilcox-Smith’s film acting credits include “Pontiac Moon,” directed by Peter Medak; “Bad,” directed by Paul Morrissey; and “Rivals,” directed by Krishna Shah. She was also a produced playwright and a published author of children’s books.

Wilcox-Smith is survived by her husband, two sons and one grandson.

The family requests donations in Wilcox-Smith’s name be made to the Renaissance Academy, 4490 Cornishon, La Canada, CA 91011, where her improvisational curriculum is being taught.

More Legit

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

  • Revenge Song

    Vampire Cowboys' 'Revenge Song': L.A. Theater Review

    There’s highbrow, there’s lowbrow, and then there’s however you might classify Vampire Cowboys, the anarchic New York City theater company whose diverse productions . It’s radical, “good taste”-flouting counter-programming for the vast swaths of the population left unserved by high-dollar, stiff-collar theater options. Vampire Cowboys’ raucous new show, “Revenge Song,” is unlike anything else that’s [...]

  • THE VISIT review

    'The Visit': Theater Review

    Director Jeremy Herrin’s extraordinary take on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “The Visit” is less of a production and more of a show. A wordy one, to be sure, which is no surprise since it’s an adaptation by Tony Kushner that, including two intermissions, comes in at three-and-a-half hours. It’s never going to be described as [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

  • Unmasked review

    Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Unmasked': Theater Review

    It takes guts to admit you were wrong — especially when you have been so right, so often. Take composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose successes with  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “School of Rock” have made him a musical-theater uber-Lord. Early on during [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content