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Actress Valerie Harper Honors a Mentor

TV's 'Rhoda' narrates audio tour about legendary theater teacher Viola Spolin

EVANSTON, Ill. --- An audio tour narrated by actress Valerie Harper -- best known for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff, “Rhoda” -- has been added to an exhibit about legendary theater and improv teacher about Viola Spolin now at Northwestern University Library.

In the approximately 10 minutes of the tour that Harper recorded from Los Angeles Sunday, March 30, Harper calls Spolin “my teacher, my mentor and my friend” and “an extraordinary artist.” The Spolin exhibit opened Monday, April 1, and runs through Aug. 16.

In the audio tour, Harper recalls: “I invited Viola (Spolin) to do workshops with the cast of my television series ‘Rhoda’ to bring the company together quickly as a family. I remember one day on the set, under the studio lights, Viola said: ‘Oh my! It’s so safe under the light. You can come into presence under the light.’”

Harper, who recently announced she has terminal brain cancer, was also a friend of Spolin’s son, the late Paul Sills, the co-founder of Chicago’s famed Second City theater and comedy club, and is a friend of his wife, Carol Bleackley Sills. The Sills family invited Harper to narrate the audio tour and donated Spolin’s papers to Northwestern University Library.

Northwestern University Press first published Spolin’s “Improvisation for the Theater” in the 1960s. A classic text containing theatre exercises and techniques developed by Spolin to free creativity, the book has influenced generations of actors, directors and teachers.

- Read more about the University Library exhibit “Viola Spolin: Improvisation and Intuition.”

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