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, inclusive 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.
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 and 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. Lila Theatre 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 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 San Francisco Improv Festival. A new monday night drop-in improv class, The Art of Improvisation begins in San Francisco while The Spirit of Play runs in the East Bay. 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 begins corporate improv training with Adobe, Google, and many others. Leela expands its digs into San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking.
2014 – Leela launches a new Musical Improv Program and a new annual women’s improv festival, Femprovisor Fest (in April). Leela expands the Performing Improv Ensemble program. Leela expands its digs into Kunst-stoff Arts.
2015 – Leela begins weekly Saturday night shows.
2016 – Leela’s weekly shows move to Stage Werx Theatre and a new Leela Training Center opens on the third floor of the SF Chronicle Building.
2017 – Leela adds Friday night shows to the weekly line up and moves into residency at the EXIT Theatre.
2018 – Leela celebrates 15 years since it’s founding and 5 years of Femprovisor Fest. Leela begins the Musical P.I.E. Program with Major Sixth.
2019 – Leela builds a new Training Center in the SF Chronicle Building.
2020 – Due to the pandemic Leela suspends all in-person events and begins offering online shows and classes.
2021 – In-person classes re-open in June.
2022 – In-person shows re-open at the EXIT Theatre. Present.
LIZ BAKER (MUSIC DIRECTOR) is a Bay Area native who loves theater and performance. After studying Playwriting at San Francisco State, she went on to create her own theater company where she produced, directed, and wrote comedy stage productions across the Bay Area. She wears many hats, and has participated as a musician, composer, writer, and director for various theatrical productions including BATS, Unscripted, Flash Mob Musical, SF Fringe, SF Olympians, and The Great Charles Dickens Faire. In addition to performing, Liz is also a teacher. After her time producing, she taught theater to children with Learning Disabilities for 7 years, and helped them connect their love of performance to academics and social-emotional development. Currently, she teaches music lessons to students of all ages, and loves spending time showing others how to make their passion for music grow. Liz is thrilled to work with Leela as a musician, and can’t wait to continue pursuing her love of improv and theater with this amazing community.
ALEX BERG (ARTIST) has always participated in some form of art, be it theater, improv, or drawing. Hailing from Boston, Alex started performing in high school and brought her love of theater and deep need for something new to San Francisco and took a chance on Leela in 2018 (spoiler alert: it paid off, BIG time). Alex progressed through Leela’s Levels classes and went on to participate in Leela’s PIE program, joining two troupes: MindCraft and Plutonic Relationships. She keeps her passion for improv alive through her three current troupes: Boom You’re Dead, Oh Geez, and Endgames’ Your F***ed Up Relationship House Team. It may sound dramatic, but Alex’s life and personal growth have improved so significantly because of Leela, she simply had to try to give the magic back by joining the fabulous Leela Faculty. In her spare time, you can find Alex spoiling her puppy, Otis, doodling while listening to True Crime podcasts, and heckling her partner, Brett, to be in a duo (called Whine and Cheez) with her.
ADRIAN BOSADA (ARTIST) is a native of Mexico and former Spanish teacher for K-6 kids, and has been doing improv since 2011, studying long-form and short-form improv in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He is a long time member of YUM! a Leela theatre company ‘Performance Improv Ensemble’, as well a member of the cast of Blackbox Improv Fusion and Synergy Theater. Adrian uses his background in animation and character design to bring characters to life on stage through archetypes, and movement. He believes that on stage, the most beautiful truths about the human condition are revealed through the actors’ ability to take risks, and to allow themselves to be surprised by their own choices.
DIANA BROWN (DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY/SENIOR PRODUCER) improvises, acts and produces. She’s produced and performed in the Bay Area, New York and Los Angeles. Diana is a founding member of several improv troupes. She has appeared in scripted plays with Expression Productions, Wily West Productions, Theatre Madcap, PianoFight, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Eugene O’Neill Foundation and Southern Railroad Theatre Company among others. Diana has studied improv with Instructors from, Second City and Improv Olympic. She recently completed narration of an audiobook about Orson Welles. Diana feels improv has improved her scripted acting and her life.
RILEY BURKE (ARTIST) has been studying, teaching, and performing improvised partner dancing since the age of 15. They participated in and developed teacher training programs within the dance community and are known for the values and practices they bring to their local partner dance scene, which focus on safety, individual autonomy, human connection, and communal well being. They discovered improv comedy in 2018 while on a hiatus from their dance career. Improv reignited Riley’s passion for connection, collaboration, and play. They are currently studying Philosophy and Psychology. Riley can usually be found standing in front of a cork board with red string connecting concepts from improvised dance, improvised scene work, community building, and group psychology.
STEVEN BURNETT (ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR) was born in Florida to military parents and spent his youth living in various U. S. states, as well as three years abroad in Spain. Steven got his first taste of performance when he and his younger sister put on a dance show for friends and neighbors in 1984. Steven studied voice with Marylin Govich, and studied music theater under Carveth Osterhaus, and creative writing at the University of Central Oklahoma. There he was selected for the prestigious Concert Choral program, and traveled across the country performing various works, including Carmina Burana. He has been featured in productions of On the Town, My One and Only, and Man of La Mancha. In San Francisco, he directed Algonquin, a fiction and essay writer’s workshop, for two years. He also performed in the original musical, Let Recovery In, exploring issues of substance abuse and depression, and bearing them up in the form of transcendent, glam-rock, power ballads. Steven joined Leela in 2013 and was a founding member of Leela’s resident Harold Team, Sketchy Alley. He has since played in many troupes, including Magic, an absurdist duo with Jill Eickmann, Steven’s Sensational Show, an improv musical cabaret featuring accompanist and collaborator, Christopher Eickmann, Irrational Fears, Fun with Balls, and is also a founding member of San Francisco’s premier LGBT improv troupe, LiGhtBrighT! In his spare time Steven sings, dances (when no one is looking), and writes critical analyses about television shows that nobody cares about. He has also been working on a graphic novel project with smart-ass wizards, and world-weary, dwarven cab drivers that he so, so, super-swears he is going to finish and start shopping around any minute now.
DANA CORY (MUSIC DIRECTOR) improvised jazz professionally as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist before discovering theater improv, and has been joyfully combining both for twenty years. An alumna of BATS Improv and ImprovWorks, she performs regularly with her own musical improv troupe “All That Jazz!”, has guested with many other sketch and improv groups nationwide, played for years with SF fave Harold troupe SNAFU, is a frequent cast member for Un-Scripted Theater Company shows including festival-favorite “Swipe Right”, and produces the annual West Coast Musical Improv Festival. Dana accompanied all of the musical groups for Leela’s sold-out FemProvisor Festival 2018 and performs, produces, and teaches music and improv in the Bay Area and beyond.
MICHAEL DAVENPORT (DIRECTOR) is thrilled to be teaching for Leela. He started improvising in Chicago in 1998, going on to study and perform at Second City, iO and the Annoyance Theater. After moving to the Bay Area in 2007 he founded three theater companies, Oaktown Improv (Oakland), CapCity Improv (Sacramento) and Morpho Theater (Oakland).
CHRISTOPHER DEJONG (ARTIST) improvises, acts and produces in the Bay Area, and has co-founded several improv projects and podcasts. He has appeared in scripted plays with Cassandra’s Call, the San Francisco Fringe Festival, Bare Bones/First Seen, Center Repertory Company, Alchemy Works, California Conservatory Theater, and others. He studied improv/acting in Chicago with Del Close at Improv Olympic, The Annoyance Theater, and The Artistic Home. He notices that most of what makes for good improv, makes for a lot of other good things. His goal is to be present.
CHRISTOPHER EICKMANN (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER) is the Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Leela where he has produced hundreds of original improvisational theatre productions. He also serves as Leela’s Musical Director. Having worked on a number of Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Touring, and regional productions his career in the entertainment industry spans over 25 years. Recently Christopher improvised music with Colin Mochrie (Whose Line is it Anyway) and Asad Mecci (MTV) as part of the international tour of Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis. In 2018 by vote he received the “I Got Your Back Award” at the San Francisco Improv Festival. In addition to his work at Leela Christopher also produces music for record labels and independent artists. Notably, the album that he produced, In Love and Longing, was nominated for a Grammy® Award. He received his M.F.A. in Musical Theatre Writing from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University with additional studies at the Berklee College of Music. As a theatre major he began improvising in Theatre Strike Force at the University of Florida with many (now notable) improvisors. In addition, he studied improvisation with Del Close (iO Chicago), Mick Napier (Annoyance), Laura Hall (Whose Line is it Anyway), and Michael Polluck (The Second City – Chicago). He got his start working as a tech for Walt Disney Entertainment at the Comedy Warehouse (Chicago City Limits show) along with several other productions. Christopher is a member of ASCAP, the Dramatist Guild, IATSE, NARAS, and The SCL. He has performed as a percussionist and pianist in several symphony orchestras, pit orchestras, jazz bands, rock bands, marching bands, concert bands, wind ensembles, studio ensembles, and percussion ensembles for over 25 years. He has been improvising theatre since 1996 and music since 1981.
JILL EICKMANN, MA, LMFT (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR) is Leela’s Co-Founder, Artistic Director, and Director of Corporate Training. She is an arts leader, entrepreneur, trainer, and community builder with 20 years+ working in diverse roles, settings, and industries, including corporate training, mental health, children and family support services, event planning, arts administration, and education. Informed by this diverse training and experience, Jill designed Leela’s holistic 5 level improv curriculum. She oversees all elements of Leela’s Corporate Training program including client communication, curriculum design, casting, hiring, and training teaching artists, and facilitation. Jill is a licensed psychotherapist, drama therapist, play therapist, and self-revelatory theatre director who continues to teach and present on the psychological implications and therapeutic benefits of improvisation. With training and experience facilitating groups for individuals struggling with social anxiety & shyness, teaching foster parenting classes, and designing corporate training programs, she is passionate about utilizing improvised role play as “Rehearsal for Life.” As a corporate trainer, she enjoys facilitating workshops with SF local start-ups, established companies, and business leaders to support a positive working environment while fostering boundless collective creativity. Clients include: Adobe, The Clorox Company, IBM, Facebook/Meta, Google, Levi Strauss & Co., LinkedIn, McKinsey & Company, Coinbase, Walmart, and YouTube (among others.)
As an arts leader, Jill has served in the roles of producer, actor, teacher, director, and mentor. She has produced events and held board positions for The San Francisco Improv Festival, and is the Executive Producer for Femprovisor Fest, SF’s Feminist Improv Festival. Jill received her BFA in Theatre/ Acting from University of Florida and MA in Counseling Psychology, Drama Therapy from California Institute of Integral Studies. She studied in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco with some of the best from Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB), The Second City, iO Chicago (Formerly Improv Olympic), Annoyance Productions, SF Clown School, and Magnet Theater. In addition to performing in duos and small ensemble projects with Leela’s past and present faculty members, she has performed across the country with notable improvisors including Chad Damiani, Dan Fogler, Law Tarello, Jay Sukow, Tracy Burns, Brian James O’Connell, and Sunita Deshpande. (among others.) As a therapeutic performance artist, she regularly performs with playback theatre actor/director, Roni Alperin in their playback theatre duo, and in an improvised therapy format, “In Session” for the treatment of your favorite fictional character. In their duo, “Intimacy,” Jill collaborates with somatic practitioner, Chelsea McAlexander exploring the intersection between improv and consent. “The Friendship Show” a solo self-revelatory theatre performance, is Jill’s mission to heal adult loneliness through theatrical improvisation.
She’s directed multiple Leela ensembles: Leela’s Resident Companies, Robot Butler, True Medusa, Objectively Speaking, Luxury Cruise Singles Mixer, YUM!, and Mindcraft (among others.) Always looking to push the boundaries of the art of improvisation, Jill has conceived and directed original formats and theories in long-form improv performance, from a darkly psychological “Improvised Black Mirror” format, to incorporating contact improv and improvised dance in “Story Dance”, as well as on-line formats like, “The Before Times” which was performed at Seattle’s (On-line) Festival of Improvised Theatre with inner monologist, Joe Bill. Most notably, Jill customized a private improv class for cast members of The Lion King – Broadway Tour. Her artistic mission is to inspire people of all walks of life to invest in an improv practice that is connected, mindful, joyful, transformative, and courageously surrenders to TRUTH.
ANDREW FITTINGOFF (ARTIST) Carl Sagan once said: “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.” The same could be said for doing improv. As both an improv and science teacher, Andrew seeks to revitalize the imagination and curiosity that we are often discouraged from exploring in our structured lives. Andrew has performed with numerous indie groups in the San Francisco bay area, and has been performing with Leela since 2012. He has studied under improv masters such as Nick Armstrong, Bill Arnett, Rebecca Sohn, Rachel Hamilton, Jason Pardo, David Razowski, Amanda Barnes, Piper Gillan, Amy Lisewski, Kat Brown, Bill Binder, Kevin Mullaney, Carla Cackowski, Eric Hunicutt.
REGGIE HARRIS (ARTIST) hails from the Broadway Heights neighborhood of San Diego, California aka “America’s Finest City”. After high school, he spent close to ten years on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. and in Boston. He holds a degree in Computer Science along with the Certificate of Advanced Study in Chinese language and culture from Harvard University. After years in the tech industry, Reggie fortunately and finally made his way to the performing arts. He took his first improv class at the behest of his voice acting teacher who stressed that improv skills were the most important in developing into a great voice actor. He was hooked after his first class and has dedicated himself to growing in improv, taking hundreds of hours of classes and workshops, immersing himself in the work of Viola Spolin and Keith Johnstone. Reggie uses his improv background in his day job to help people from all walks of life tap into their own personal truths to work, learn, and play better together. Reggie is delighted to be teaching for Leela. He is passionate about introducing improv to communities that are underrepresented in the improv space and is thrilled that Leela shares this same passion.
JED L. (ARTIST) is an improvisor and comedy writer who grew up in the north bay. Before coming to Leela, Jed spent eight years studying, performing and coaching improv in Chicago. Jed has completed training programs at The Second City, iO Chicago and The Annoyance and is a graduate of the Second City Music Improv Conservatory. While in Chicago, Jed co-produced a weekly improv show with his team, Nite Brunch, and regularly performed fully improvised musicals with a live band as a member of the critically acclaimed Baby Wants Candy. Jed’s other improv credits include performing with Music Improv Night (MINt); Second City’s GayCo; ComedySportz Minor League; and the Pool at iO Chicago. Jed is also an accomplished writer–his debut musical TAPPED won the 2015 Premier Premieres Festival and was later produced in a four week run at Theater Wit in Chicago. In his past life, Jed studied international development at UCLA, had a brief career as a journalist and even worked at the United Nations Secretariat in New York.
NICOLE ODELL (ARTIST) grew up in the East Bay. She earned her B.A. in Drama from San Francisco State University, then moved to Los Angeles. She was accepted into the Second City Hollywood Conservatory training program, and after she graduated, began an improv and sketch comedy troupe with her classmates called Margot’s Pie, directed by Jaime Moyer. They participated in several comedy festivals, including Austin’s Out of Bounds, and were the winners of the LA Improv Festival Sketch Championship in 2011. She began doing stand-up and participated in several small theatrical productions in Los Angeles. However, she has recently moved back to her true home in the Bay Area to help cultivate the rich comedy scene in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. Nicole loves zombies, Social Distortion, swing dancing, craft beer, and anything vintage, from clothing to cocktails.
RADHIKA RAO (ARTIST) is an actor, improviser, storyteller, director, writer, teacher, and arts education consultant. She has performed theater on stages and on streets throughout India, Boston, San Diego, and now the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s been associated with Leela Improv and performed with several of their PIE groups since 2012. She is a member of Eth-Noh-Tec kinetic storytelling ensemble and a resident artist of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Rao has a doctor of education (EdD) degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She specializes in creating curriculum that integrates theater into diverse learning situations for children and adults, as well as organizations. Her collaborations include work with America Conservatory Theater, Cutting Ball Theater, Young Audiences of Northern California, Enacte, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Larkin St Youth Services, Life Theatre Services, Green Art Workshop, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University, Samuel Merritt University, and Stanford University, HCL America, etc.
SIDONIE STARR (DIRECTOR) is a member of oddball quartet Something and plot-obsessed duo The Ambassadors, and a devoted fan of Full Spectrum Improvisation. At Pan Theater (Oakland), she performed with house troupe Liquid Mind, directed house troupes and feature shows, taught drop-ins and levels classes, and produced the experimental Lab Show series. At The Brody Theater (Portland), she performed as part of house troupe Diabolical Experiments and served as the resident sound/lighting improvisor for Theatresports. With a background in masks, puppets, and other forms of physical theater, Sid seeks to integrate the abstract, experimental, and highly-physical with improv. She also has a strong interest in conventional and boundary-stretching musical improv. When not making theater, she can be found house managing and otherwise making theater happen at venues all around the Bay Area.