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David Shepherd (1924-2018) Papers

Identifier: MS199

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of 36 boxes which are organized into 4 series: Biographical Materials; Professional Materials; Photographs; Multimedia.

The Biographical Materials (1942-2014) series contains print and born-digital materials Shepherd’s correspondence, interviews, autobiographical materials, as well as significant portion of his journals which span the length of his career. Other materials are often inserted among the pages of the journals, such as flyers, newsletters, and other printed matter.

The Professional Materials (1953-2013) series consists of born-digital and print materials of individual subject files related to Shepherd’s career. It should be noted that these files preserve Shepherd’s original organization and contain materials related to multiple projects. Of note are copies of Shepherd’s book “…That Movie Inside Your Head” as well as a collection of programs and planning materials related to the Compass Players.

The Photographs (1934-2010) series are divided between photo albums, files containing individual photographs from Shepherd's professional life, and born-digital photographs.

The Multimedia (1972-2010) series consists of audio cassettes, digital video tapes, VHS, DVDs, CDs, and a USB flash drive. These include recordings of specific events as well as media related to Shepherd’s career. Some VHS cassette boxes contain note cards or multiple cassette labels with detailed information. A general note at the item level in the container list indicates when these notes are present. The files from born-digital media (DVDs, CDs, and flash drive) have been extracted from the original discs and described in other series of this collection.


  • 1934 - 2019


Conditions Governing Access

Access is available to the entire collection; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations. Some personal data, such as street addresses, phone numbers, and/or email addresses, from born-digital files have been redacted. Access to files on analog formats (audio cassettes, digital video tapes, and VHS) may be unavailable or delayed due to reformatting required to access these files.

Biographical Note

David Gwynne Shepherd was born October 10, 1924 in New York City to parents William and Cetty. Shepherd attended Phillips Exeter Academy and subsequently matriculated to Harvard University, where he earned an A.B. in English in 1948. During his undergraduate education, he served in the armed forces during the final two years of World War II. Before moving to Chicago, Shepherd earned an M.A. in theater history from Columbia University, received a Fulbright scholarship to study in France, and lived in India while teaching English at the University of Bombay. Following his travels, Shepherd arrived in Chicago where he soon met Viola Spolin and her son Paul Sills, with whom he founded the Playwrights Theatre Club in 1953. Shepherd and Sills embraced an improvisational model in their second venture—the Compass Players, founded in 1955. Other notable early members of the Players included Barbara Harris, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Shelley Berman, Alan Alda, and Alan Arkin. Subsequent improv ventures include the non-profit Group Creativity Projects and the ImprovOlympic, both founded in 1972. Shepherd continued to teach and develop improv formats such as Life-Play following his move to Massachusetts. He died on December 17, 2018.


36 Boxes

24.1 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



The David Shepherd (1924-2018) Papers consists of 36 boxes and 24.1 gigabytes of born-digital files containing materials related to his work in improvisational theater.


The Biographical Materials, Professional Materials, and Photographs series have been arranged alphabetically according to title. The Professional Materials and Photographs series maintain Shepherd’s original organization, with the exception of the born-digital files which have been intellectually organized alongside related materials alphabetically. The Multimedia series has been arranged by format type: Audio Cassettes, Digital Video Tapes (DVCPro and MiniDV tapes), VHS, and born-digital media (DVDs, CDs, and USB flash drive).

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Available born-digital materials in this collection are delivered to researchers in born-digital formats. Requests for different access methods, such as those not using computers or with the aid of assistive technologies, must be made in advance of a research appointment to Library staff.

Born-digital materials within the collection may be viewed within the McCormick Library Reading Room during research appointments. All necessary hardware and software will be provided during the appointment to access these materials to the best of our abilities. Some requests may also be made for remote access to the born-digital files pending rights and permissions.

Custodial History

Data from born-digital materials in this collection were transferred using read-only technologies creating preservation copies to extract the content without altering any of its data. Preservation files have undergone a checksum algorithm to allow for future data integrity and authenticity checking and repair according to the Libraries’ digital preservation policy. Derivative copies of the original files have been generated for research access and use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated by David Shepherd and Michael Golding in 2016. Born-digital files were extracted from DVDs, CDs, email attachements, and a USB flash drive between 2021-2022 to create preservation copies of the data and to transfer to data to Libraries’ managed storage.

Separated Materials

Approximately 8.3 megabytes of born-digital files were removed from the collection as they were true duplicates. Approximately 3.58 gigabytes of born-digital files were removed the collection as they were identified as out-of-scope with the colleciton.

Guide to the David Shepherd (1924-2018) Papers
Robin Steuteville, Kyle Kaplan, Kelsey O'Connell
2021, 2023 (updated)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US