Working In The Theatre: Second City


[music] Sketch-comedy loses a little something just describing it. That noise that you hear are vocal warm-ups. We make little siren noises and we do look and sound crazy now that I’m on the outside of it. [vocal warm up sounds] Is that a sensical answer? I’ve been drinking all morning. [music] There is no typical Second City day. It’s a fascinating place to work. It’s basically sort of a creative innovation laboratory that started as a cabaret theatre and is much more than that. [music] When I first started here improv wasn’t taught in schools. And now it’s on every college in America. [music] People flock to this work because they find value in it. And they find value not just to get on a stage or get to Saturday Night Live. They know that when they master these improv skills that they could take that into their life to become you know better co-workers, better human beings. [show announcements] When the University of Chicago recently installed a new Chancellor, it reminded us that the last time they install the Chancellor, Mr. Lawrence Kimpton, he vowed that he would bring football back to the University of Chicago. Well, he did not. And now we would like to explore some of the possible reasons why he did not in a scene entitled “Football Comes to the University of Chicago.” [scene dialogue] The story of Second City starts so far before the beginning of Second City itself. The Greeks were improvising. There’s improvisation in Commedia. [music] Modern improvisational comedy started in the mid-fifties at the University of Chicago with a group called The Compass Players. They were inspired by a woman named Viola Spolin. Viola was teaching and working at the Hull House in Chicago with immigrant kids. She created these improvisational games that you would have the kids play to get them to communicate better and to get them to feel not ostracized. Her son Paul Sills had an interest in theater and was at the University of Chicago with people like Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris, Severn Darden. They took the games and made them performance pieces and played them both on campus and off campus, building this group called the Compass Players. The Compass Players then morphed into the Second City and really that’s what kick-started improv is this amazing convoluted journey of art and comedy. We’re going to perform three scenes for you at the same time, but before we do that we need to get several suggestions from you. For Paul and myself, may we please have a suggestion of an item you would find grandparents’ garage, like a tackle box lawnmower or……. “A jar of poison” [audience laughter] “A jar of poison, thank you” [piano] Can I get a suggestion of a two-person relationship like doctor-patient, lawyer-client, or………. [chatter] From the person who identified my gender correctly [laughter] we’re going mother-daughter. [piano] For Christine and myself, please a suggestion of a line of dialogue that may be heard someone say today like, “the polar vortex is back” or “we’re running late” or …… [chatter] I’m sorry, what’s this? Great! “You better preach now” [piano] Now we are going to switch back and forth between scenes. To do that one of our actors will clap their hands. Then the last line of dialogue from one scene. The last line of dialogue from one scene becomes the first line of dialogue for the next scene. [scene dialogue] [laughter] I’ve lived in Chicago basically my whole life. My dad was a theater critic. So he was coming in reviewing Second City shows from when I was one. And I was lucky enough to get hired to work in the kitchen as a dishwasher at Second City in 1988 with the hopes of becoming a playwright. To just being around theater. But I was immediately bit by the bug. Mike Myers was on stage then. Bonnie Hunt. I was experiencing this level of innovation and creativity that was sort of unbelievable and ended up working in the box office and and sticking around Second City. I became a producer of the Second City in 1992 and my first cast included Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris & Stephen Colbert. [singing] This is a wonderful place to work, but it’s not easy. The talent is so good and they get a lot of power. Our actors write and perform their own shows. So one had to learn to stay out of the way and then one had to learn when to step in. We are led by the artists and the art which means producers, directors need to stay on their feet. [music] Every show that we write the Second City has a director and the director serves as kind of head writer and director for the show. So they will be the arbiter of what ends up in the final running order. But often what the director does is try to give any one individual pieces or the group pieces as many times, as many reps, in front of an audience as possible. An actor will come in with an idea for character. And that can be any number of things. That can be a voice, that can be a physicality. Within that, the thing that we tend to look most for is point of view. What is the interesting point of view that this character has to offer? I tend to write about the things that happen every day so I write about an argument me and my husband had, or a funny conversation I had with my mom, or I just did jury duty the other day and the weird things that happened in there. [scene dialogue] The easiest way develop a character, I think is when you’re out somewhere you’ll see someone doing something strange and it could just be the way they’re walking or the way they’re interacting with something. And you just take that whatever something you see and and build on that and exaggerated that and and really just sort of blow it out until you have this new character based on some very small thing. [scene dialogue] [laughter] I think what’s so exciting for audience members, especially what Second City does well, is when they sit and watch the scene happening. They say “oh I know that person. I’ve been in that car. I’ve had that conversation.” or “I know that guy. I worked with that guy.” or “I have that mother-in-law.” And that’s what’s so amazing about it is when we write about what’s really going on in life, it makes it easier for people to relate to and understand better. [scene dialogue] [music] Contrary to popular belief, our resident company shows are written sketch shows. They often contain a good deal of improvisation within the body of those shows, but it’s our process that’s written through improvisation. [running lines] We normally know our lines. It’s been a while since we’ve done this one. It got sprung on us. It’s no excuse. I knew my lines. Well, okay. I knew mine. They were just in the wrong order. [scene dialogue in right order] [music] The format of the Second City, second city is a2x show which is primarily scripted some improvisational primarily scripted and then we take our vows and before we tell people leave we can say you want to see a little bit more because we’re going to do a free 30-minute improv set after the show so people can leave other people come in it’s absolutely free and that’s our place to fail that’s we’re going to try out material that’s never been seen from the audience and it might be something that went really well in rehearsal and then when you put up on its feed it bombs I don’t have a lot of fears as far as improv goes the worst thing that happens is you fail miserably and everyone laughs at you which is essentially mission accomplished maybe the absolute worst thing is there’s no sound at all from the audience that can be a little life-destroying but that’s about it preparing see if it that if an actor prepares was realistic they would eat mcdonalds an Indian Head book doesn’t work second city holds general auditions once a year will see anywhere from 500,000 people were probably hiring three or four when you get hired for the second city you normally become an understudy to one of our touring companies and the Turing companies are kinda like the triple a farm teams to the major league major league at second city is one of our residents stages we are hiring actors improvisers and writers so that’s our triple threat that not only do you need to be able to act the roles you need to be able to improvise which is not necessarily an easy skill but then you need to write and one of the reasons I think that so many of our alumni have gone on to be so successful is that they can walk in Rome and do all three of those things but then there’s also this just x factor which is charisma which is sort of an it factor you just know if someone has it Chris Farley was that way when he was here you just kind of knew everyone want to watch that person what they were doing ok his name is Matt Foley and he’s been down in the basement drinking coffee for about the last time around go maybe all ready for ya old go for you feel like this alright is probably told you my name is Matt Foley and I download original speaker you’re finally doing with scenario one of my life so first off I am 35 years old horse I don’t bring down body probably go out there today I’m going to the world one detail right employment we have to tell you that you’re probably gonna find out as you go out there that you are not going around to check for this is my favorite brainstorming from this sort of wall which is very much about the talented mr ripley second city has a separate the different genres if you look at the hundreds of names on these walls a lot of the pioneers and combination of come out of second city and go back to alan arkin Joan Rivers when we start looking at some of our Toronto names we look at John Candy the radnor the Belushi’s dan Aykroyd bill murray looks like steve carell and stephen colbert Tina Fey Rachel Dratch ratio sands and a movie a host of really creative individuals and now you know a slight light on the record they have increase which is made available pooja 1010 god bless ya mad this way a job with the ok I’ve got to be my friends right now you know my shop with needle shoved a little freakin pack of vampires you run around with my god my friends forever living God am dead you okay i gotta be silly house to watch the bruins game at eight o’clock used to watch hockey with made ya know you swear to my neighborhood children enjoy my home I got a wicked craving for a rebel the chicken curry Bob man you gonna get me a negative body image rice the area’s least n teenage girls have a negative body image yeah well six and then girls are right one of the gifts of working here is you know you’re working with someone like Stephen Colbert when they’re just starting out and then you get to sit here now in 2014 and about to take over the Late Show and looking at the arc of that career and knowing that you had a very very small but hopefully important part in that success the rules of creating are all over the map for us improv is a world where as opposed to a lot of different things like rocket science or or physiology or whatever there’s a lot there are so many different ways to be right that’s what’s great about it and frustrating about it is there are no tricks and there are no rules i think you have to realize what works for you specifically Nick for example is great add facts and quick wit and he can come up with anything right on the spot and i am not ever going to be that person I am good at digging into the relationship and connecting it to who i am and i think when you realize that it just kind of three you up to be more open to your partners and playing and I’m also just experiencing just what you’re doing at that moment not help you can make it looks like he has a very bright future that’s why if she wants to be a doctor heater and when you from experience you can tell you from experience mommy he will not ok he will not get divorced for me I tried everything have you showing your personality just saying sometimes you can be a bit of a peach that’s the polite way of saying what you can be an actually owe your mother will not say that word not this Pete and pitch are not interchangeable hard to explain right you know hope you don’t ya email would you like to know their stuff actually where it’s closed it’s closed close but Jonestown was actually gonna roll oh ok well that’s where I’m headed we do follow me write review some kool-aid embrace failure we recognize that no great thing that came out perfectly formed so you got to be okay with failure along the way or you’re not gonna get anything great i think the things i lean on when I improvised are not really being too concerned with where I’m going to end up if you start planning ahead you’re going to fail because you’re going to be stuck on one idea it’s just a matter of taking every possible idea and sifting through them and using whatever is there as quickly as possible and down as blue beach with that lamb around stop applying all over them down Charlie the moon everyone upside down putting island at me and that’s what I take a nap inning swear to God I am unless you’re spontaneous you know that’s a quality which you should capitalize on in some way believe me it’s a very rare your soul mr. always you know I could I could teach you how to do them to miss time I can see you down here I hope you got to do that you walk a hit single mothers day mom no no there are some people who shouldn’t participate no moans oh no movie no no Morgan yeah I have a numerous problems in the area spontaneity hi can I never even tried to you will try to know the world what the hell you know alright what yeah all right i mean why not you know after all I can only make a fool of myself just like there’s nothing to lose but lose itself right yeah the foundation of improvisation is that is a tenant that we call yes and it’s the idea there is in a scene you agree or acknowledge what your scene partner has said and the reality that you’ve created and then you add something to it in that way using improvisation you can build one line at a time you can’t say no especially at the beginning when you’re trying to innovate and brainstorm then someone says know that idea is dead but when you say yes the idea you allowed to live a little bit when you say and meaning you’re affirming and then contributing something you have an opportunity to take an idea maybe it seems crazy but you have an opportunity that idea and maybe make it something great right yeah that doesn’t surprise me either to happen to know your older father ok no it’s like surprised what the generals.the day who is the dad was a lad of me and I just wrote oh I’m on tenterhooks to find out where this moment it’s a role that goes down most one of the phrases we have here is make your partner look good it’s not about you in the group it’s about the group so that’s really vital when you’re trying to create something as a group that you have each other’s backs and that you are always respecting the ensemble first you’re not looking for your idea you’re looking for the idea by there’s certainly some truth that people that are the funniest have some some pain in their lives I think that that’s twofold one the people that are drawn to performing in general and have need of that kind of attention certainly there’s something in them that needs that kind of acceptance from a larger audience as far as the pain in their backgrounds I I think that’s debatable but you certainly succeed in comedy by telling reflecting the truth on stage I know you want to win a friend yeah well it seems to be the trouble something’s wrong I don’t know we can dig that now first you have to show an interest in others don’t let them know you like them how I Oh fine how are you buy one today it’s Harry that’s why they once you are so right want you how do you do mr. Watkins all right you just made your first friend well I appreciate that you know there’s nothing else I want to know come closer I can’t hear you I swear I want you to know that I’m going to be your friend to the end well I’ll be excited you’ll see ya okay great Joni Mitchell lyric which is laughing and crying you know it’s the same release there is so much to cry about in this world we choose to laugh about it that’s that’s our choice and what second city does is take often taboo or difficult subjects and finds humor in them as a way to have a conversation ma’am I am required by law to inform you that I am a registered sex offender we can’t have that in my neighborhood I’m calling my congressman oh I had your progress minute how many is a really great way to make a statement it’s a really great way to make commentary on our world in a way that doesn’t that’s not preachy right in a way that that is more conversational in a way that but opens up discussion and sparks discussion rather than having people be resistant to the message that you’re trying to say mama by looking at the corners from geography cough yes morning you that’s what you’re gonna be doing everything I don’t know Mexico look at me i try to keep as informed as what’s going on in the world as possible I think it’s just a matter of being aware of the world around us which with more and more technology seems like something we’re doing less and less of when people can put a picture of what they’re having for dinner up that somehow becomes more important than a world conflict so it’s important to actually care about what’s happening in the world perhaps us commenting on stage about something will be enough that one person will say oh yeah that is something maybe we should make a change about you know we had an oil crisis and seventies we have an oil crisis now why did we forget that happened there’s a reason you see a jon stewart and stephen colbert doing so well beyond their innate amazing ability and comedy it’s because they’re taking incredibly complex ideas and making them simple and digestible while also very funny so it’s a great means of communication life is an improvisation every social interaction that we have is not something we necessarily pre-planned for we’re all making everything up as we go along improvisation teaches you to be a better communicator a better listener it teaches you to pick up visual cues in each of you to read a room all things that are very powerful for successful people so I think what people like Stephen Colbert and tina fey have talked about quite a bit is how improvisation isn’t just the thing that made them better performers it’s the thing that made them better people

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