David Shepherd, the visionary behind Compass (forerunner of Second City), Improv Olympics and Canadian Improv Games, celebrated Valentine’s Day in 2004 by improvising a scenario with an invited group in Hadley, MA,  based on the real story of St. Valentine; the struggle for individuality against the interests of the Empire. David explored other “holy days” through his nonprofit organization Group Creativity Projects, which enabled groups to create their own movies, plays, novels, poetry and radio shows through improvisation. The following is from his invitation.


For thirty years, Group Creativity Projects has celebrated Interactivity with actors, comedians and filmmakers. This weekend we enter the 21st century by visiting Valentine’s Day to discover the questions, and our talents, answer to an important question: Who was Valentine? 

David Shepherd’s invitation for 2004 shoot

Over the years, Valentine’s Day has become a day to express your affection for people by giving them gifts, cards and candlelit dinners. As a result, card companies, gift factories and restaurants make a lot of money on Valentine’s Day. To ensure that the money keeps rolling in, manufacturers have produced a veritable Valentine’s Day assembly-kit: roses, chocolate, red hearts, white lace and a card saying “I love you.” Doesn’t it seem strange that a unique love, between unique people, is celebrated formulaically? 

As it turns out, the original Valentine was not a romantic message, and it was not flurried with lace and hearts. It comes at the end of an old story with a surprisingly contemporary theme: the struggle for Individuality against the interests of Empire. 

Like all ancient history, the story of Valentine grew from an amalgam of whispers, facts, theories and crosshatchings. In this sense, St. Valentine was and is a product of group improvisation.

2004 invitation


Legends abound about a mysteriously romantic St. Valentine who wed lovelorn couples during the reign of Claudius II in the third century A.D. The emperor had outlawed marriages to increase numbers in his army, and the sympathetic priest married couples in secrecy.

In reality, there are three St. Valentines on record. The first was  priest in Rome who assisted martyrs who were persecuted under Claudius II. He was beheaded in 270 because he wouldn’t renounce his faith. The second St. Valentine was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, located about 60 miles from Rome) who was also martyred under the reign of Claudius II. The third bearer of the name suffered martyrdom in Africa along with some companions – but nothing further is known of this saint.   

Cast and crew for 2004 shoot.

David Shepherd – Feb. 14, 2018

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv
teacher.  He can be contacted for
workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the
Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic
Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for
Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College
in Los Angeles,
working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced
the documentary “David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational
Theatre” (available for free on YouTube). 
His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and
memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon,
Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from
New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in
Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education &
Human Development.  


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