You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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.

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

  • West End celling collapse

    Ceiling Collapse at 'Death of a Salesman' Leads to Theater Closure, Boycott Threats

    The West End revival of “Death of a Salesman” has moved into a temporary space after parts of the ceiling of Piccadilly Theatre collapsed during a Wednesday night performance. Five audience members sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. The theater will remain closed for the rest of the week. In the meantime, [...]

  • Tina review

    Broadway Review: 'Tina'

    “Now, that’s what I call a Broadway show!” That’s what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” I’d say he nailed it. Call “Tina” a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but [...]

  • Cyrano review Peter Dinklage

    Off Broadway Review: 'Cyrano' Starring Peter Dinklage

    It’s pride and not panache that drives this overly spare and gloomy musical adaptation of that classic tale of unrequited love and honor, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Despite a mesmerizing performance by Peter Dinklage, hot off “Game of Thrones,” and a haunting score by members of the band The National, this “Cyrano” is so reductive — [...]

  • Armie Hammer

    Armie Hammer, Jessie Mueller to Star in Broadway Production of Tracy Letts' 'The Minutes'

    Armie Hammer and Jessie Mueller will lead the cast of “The Minutes,” the Broadway production of a new play by Tracy Letts. The play seems tailor-made for these politically polarized times. It dissects a particularly contentious city council meeting, one in which the hypocrisy, greed, and ambition of various community members bubbles up to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content