Leela teaches a private improv class to cast members of Disney’s The Lion King – Broadway Tour | November 2012
“There is an old Sanskrit word, Leela, which means play. Richer than our word, it means divine play, the play of creation, destruction, and recreation, the folding and un-folding of the cosmos. Leela, free and deep, is both the delight and enjoyment of this moment… It also means love.
“Leela may be the simplest thing there is – spontaneous, childish, disarming. But as we grow and experience the complexities of life, it may also be the most difficult and hard-won achievement imaginable, and its coming to fruition is a kind of homecoming to our true selves.”
-Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play
Mission & Philosophy
Leela is a holistic improvisational theatre company and training center that strives to continue the great San Francisco improv legacy begun by Del Close and The Committee. Inspired by the ancient Sanskrit word, Leela was founded to create, support, and produce new original works while encompassing the art of improvisation. Every work created is based around Leela’s powerful mission of truthful, artistic play. Truthful: exploring the authentic truths of the artists involved on stage, Artistic: transforming these truths into compelling and accessible works of art, and Play: infusing the joy of childlike play into the process of the creation of these works.
Leela is deeply committed to collaboration and the development of the ensemble and strives to create a supportive, open culture where a community of artists can grow together and take huge risks. We whole heartedly believe in a profound ensemble process where individuals can explore their truths and the power of group mind. For the more honest and genuine we can be, the greater the chance for an empathic exchange in a theatrical community.
Members of Leela come from a variety of backgrounds and schools of thought. Many of our members have performed and trained with: The Second City (Chicago/LA/NYC), Improv Olympic (Chicago/LA), Annoyance Productions (Chicago), Upright Citizen’s Brigade (NYC/LA), The Groundlings (LA), Improv Asylum (Boston), The Tribe (Boston), Boom Chicago (Amsterdam), BATS Improv (SF), Endgames Improv (SF), Pan Theater (Oakland), and Life Plays (Palo Alto). In addition, some members have film/television experience and/or come from a more traditional theatre background, having performed in Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Touring, and Regional Productions.
Jill Mueller (now Jill Eickmann) and Christopher Eickmann founded Lila Theatre (now Leela) early February 2003. Fusing classic improvisational theories with their own theories of truthful, artistic play, Lila Theatre began offering its first Long-Form Improvisation class at Studio C in the Mission.
Shortly after, Lila Theatre cast its founding Resident Company and began performing sold out shows around the city. With a new community forming, Lila Theatre needed a permanent home to grow. So in July 2005 Lila Theatre moved into Stage 250 at the Off-Market Theaters in downtown San Francisco. Shortly after, Lila Theatre developed into a thriving company with a Resident Company, two Conservatory Programs, multiple classes, improv jams, and a ton of shows.
After a busy five years the founders decided to take a much needed break to recharge and refocus, ultimately leading to the decision to move the company out of the Off-Market Theaters. After a three year hiatus Lila Theatre reopened with the new name of Leela, returning to the ideals that the company was founded upon.
2003 – Lila Theatre is founded by Jill Mueller (now Jill Eickmann) and Christopher Eickmann. The Lila Theatre Training Center begins offering long-form improvisation classes at Studio C in the Mission.
2004 – The first Resident Company is created and begins performing monthly sold out improv and sketch shows throughout San Francisco. Founding Resident Company members include: Michael Aho, Christopher Eickmann, Robert Hickling, Robin Honan, Casey Jackson, Jennifer Lucas, Stacy Malia, and Jill Mueller (now Jill Eickmann). Lila Theatre’s Monday night Long-Form Improvisation class is established. The Lila Theatre Resident Company performs at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
2005 – The second Resident Company is formed, members include: Jennifer Chambers, Elana Isaacs, Wylie Herman, Jim Kenney, Rheri Kenney, Kenny Lund, Julie Potter, Marcus Sams. Lila Theatre moves into their new home, the Off-Market Theater/Stage 250 located at 965 Mission Street in the SoMa district of San Francisco. The Artist Way is added to the curriculum. Leela produces a new original sketch and improv show, Abbreviated Enlightenment.
2006 – The Conservatory Company is established, offering six month improv training programs in thematic and narrative long-form improvisation. Additional classes, the Harold Performance Lab and Roots of Improv are added to the curriculum. Temenos, a monthly Improv Jam with Marcus Sams is established. Leela collaborates with Dave Razowsky, the current Artistic Director of The Second City (LA) in creating The Razowskly Project.
2007 – How to Improvise a Full-Length Play; The Art of Spontaneous Theater, written by Lila Theatre Director Kenn Adams, is published by Allworth Press. Lila Theatre moves out of the Off-Market Theater/Stage 250.
2008-2009 – Lila Theatre goes on hiatus and restructures.
2010 – Lila Theatre changes its name to Leela and reopens. A new Resident Company is formed.
2011 – Leela’s monthly improv jam, ImprovLuv is established. Leela offers a series of Improv Intensives at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco. Leela begins its new improv ensemble training/performing program, Performing Improv Ensembles (known as P.I.E.). The Resident Company performs at the San Francisco Improv Festival. Jill Eickmann (Artistic Director) becomes an Associate Producer for the Festival. A new monday night drop-in improv class, The Art of Improvisation begins in San Francisco while The Spirit Play runs in the East Bay. Leela welcomes Daniel Smith to the faculty. Leela expands its digs into the Ninth Street Independent Film Center.
2012 – Leela signs a lease with Intersection for the Arts and moves into a new home at the SF Chronicle building. The Armando Company is formed featuring some of San Francisco’s best improvisors. Former Committee member and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Julie Payne makes a special appearance as “The Armando.” The Resident Company and Armando Company perform at the San Francisco Improv Festival. Artistic Director, Jill Eickmann, teaches a private improv class to cast members of Disney’s The Lion King – Broadway Tour.
2013 – Leela celebrates 10 years since it’s founding by launching a seven level improv training program. A second drop-in class, The Art of Improvisation is added on Thursdays to the weekly line up. Leela welcomes Doug Kassel, Fontana Butterfied, and Rachel Hamilton to the faculty. Leela begins corporate improv training with Adobe, Google, and many others. Leela expands its digs into SFSDF.
2014 – Leela launches a new Musical Improv Program and a new annual women’s improv festival, Femprovisor Fest (in April). Leela welcomes Wylie Herman, Marcus Sams, and Michael Vargas to the faculty. Leela expands the Performing Improv Ensemble program. Leela expands its digs into Kunst-stoff Arts.
2015 – Leela begins weekly Saturday night shows.
2016 – Present. Leela’s weekly shows move to Stage Werx Theatre and a new Leela Training Center opens on the third floor the SF Chronicle Building.