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.
2023 – Leela builds a new theater in the SF Chronicle Building and expands to the east coast – offering improv classes and corporate training in Raleigh, NC and throughout the triangle.
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.
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 Music Director and designed Leela’s 4 level musical improv curriculum. 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, Mick Napier, Bobby McFerrin, David Worm, Meredith Monk, David Darling, Silvia Nakkach, Laura Hall, and Michael Polluck. 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.