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  • Jun 4 2013

    Offstage with Rachel LaForce

    Rachel LaForce performed her entire life, but she was always landing what she called the, "Kathy Bates Characters," doing comic relief. So when she discovered Second City, she knew were she had to be.

    How did you first get involved in The Second City?
    Everyone has a similar story - saw my first Second City show and had that Wayne's World moment - you know when Wayne goes and looks at the guitar he wants and repeats, "Oh yes, you will be mine." I moved to Chicago nine months later.

    Tell us about some of the voiceover work you do
    I was lucky to be introduced to voiceover work my freshman year of college. Voiceover is a really great way to make money as an actor. My agents are very knowledgable and come out to support me at shows, which is really awesome. Naked Voices. Check them out! I have mostly booked industrials so far. I am still praying for that McDonald's money!

    What else are you working on right now?
    Casey Whitaker and I are writing our second two women show as LaForce & Whitaker for The Women's Funny Festival at Stage 773 in June. Our show is titled, "Copy. Edit. Paste." and directed by Scott Goldstein. We are trying new styles and it is a whole new format for us, come see it! Saturday, June 8th, 10pm. Whitaker and I are also half of a sketch group called, Wildcard. Carmen Christopher and Greg Worsley make up the other 50%. We are always challenging each other creatively. Worsley and I are currently shooting a webseries titled, "Fights In Cars." We dated for 2 years and are still good friends, so we have a lot of material for relationship based arguments. I have always wanted to write a one women show. I finally gave into myself. The working title is, "I Carried A Watermelon" inspired by one of my favorite lines from Dirty Dancing.

    What are some of your hobbies?
    I recently read, "It's good to have hobbies. They give without taking. There is no pressure. They're like church" . . . I love to paint. I am not very good at it, but it's relaxing. I LOVE thrifting. You can find the coolest stuff for great deals, and I love the thrill of the hunt. I've been reading a lot more, which feels great. I've really gotten into Ted Talks. It is interesting to get a glimpse into worlds I don't know much about. Is dining out a hobby? I love trying new restaurants . . . Large farm tables, candles, bottles of wine and great friends. Perfect.

    What movies, TV shows, etc. influence your comedic style?
    My favorite movie for inspiration right now is "Bridesmaids." I am loving watching the ladies of SNL right now. Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant are so fun to watch. Aidy and I improvised together in college and I was always in awe of her. I love "Parks and Rec" - I mean, come on. If you don't watch, "The Mindy Project," I suggest giving it a shot. Louis C. K. is unreal. I'm late to the GIRLS train, but I love it.

    What other comedians inspire you?
    Lately I have been really inspired by . . . the ladies of Fanny (Claire Mulaney, Blair Beeken, Sarah Shook and Lily Sullivan) I love watching them play. Kristen Schaal. Bobby Moyniham's Drunk Uncle. Barry Hite's references. Tig Notaro. "Let Them Eat Chaos" - good lord this show is fantastic. Anna Kendrick - follow her on Twitter. Mindy Kaling. Aubrey Plaza. The ladies of Superhuman. Lee and Matt Baratts. . . Life long inspirations: Chris Farley. Diane Keaton. Maya Rudolph. Kristen Wiig. Carol Burnett. Ellen. Billy Crystal.

    When you’re not acting, improvising or writing, what are you doing?
    Sleeping. Ha. That is the most honest answer. I love sleep. It's the best. I mostly make time for my girlfriends that arn't in the community. My girls from college live within 2 blocks from me in Wicker Park. I am lucky to have 2 of my best friends from high school live here as well. I love hanging out with them. It feeds my soul.

    By Pamela Birchard

    6/4/2013 Comments (2)
  • May 7 2013

    Offstage with Brianna Baker

    When Brianna Baker first moved to Chicago, she had three different bosses recommend The Second City to her within a week. "The first time someone said it, I just smiled and nodded. The second time, I asked what The Second City was and pretended that I had known the entire time. By the third, I went to The Second City's website and signed up for a class," she said. Since then, she has done a handful of student and Outreach & Diversity shows, sailed on the NCL Pearl and now performs at UP Comedy Club in "What The Tour Guide Didn't Tell You." We talked with Brianna about some of her other projects, her grandma and what she does for fun.

    Tell us about The TOMKAT Project.
    The TOMKAT Project is the brainchild of my good friend, Brandon Ogborn. The play is about those two relatively well-known actors and The Church of Scientology, but it's also about so much more than that. It deconstructs our fascination with celebrities, why we want to know about them, what we think we know about them, why we think we are so well informed, and more importantly, it presents the audience with some pretty big questions about all of the above.

    What are some of your favorite characters to play?
    My Grandmother, Phyllis - She is in my solo show Bede. She is a pistol. I just say her catchphrases, or ones that I imagine she would say.

    My Grandmother, Emmie - She is in my solo show as well, but such a contrast to Phyllis. She died when I was in 8th grade, so it feels good to embody her and keep her with me, even if on stage.

    Yera, A Hermaphrodite Orca Whisperer - This one is new, and I think the title explains why I like to play it.

    Fionica - I originally thought of her when I was on a ship for Second City, and I would play her when I was interviewing contestants for games. She was then a meter maid in my Conservatory show, and I've since used her in many different sketches.

    How was your solo show Bede?
    My solo show Bede has been the most personally fulfilling project I've done thus far. It centers around my child self, Bede, and my gender-nonconforming childhood. It was a show that I've known I should write for years. I'll be performing it at Stage 773 for the Chicago Women's Funny Festival on June 8th at 9pm.

    What else are you working on right now?
    I am going to be performing at the Awkward Phase Summer Series at the Annoyance. The show is sponsored by Tumblr. My Improv team, 3 Peat, has a run at the Playground Theater on Fridays at 10pm. I'm working on a project that involves my grandmother, Phyllis. I'm really excited about it.

    What comedians inspire you?
    I grew up idolizing Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey. I can thank these two men for having each and every on-camera teacher tell me to stop playing everything so big. Amy Sedaris, David Sedaris, Molly Shannon, Steve Carrell, Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Steve Martin, Toni Collete. These are some of the people that strike a chord in me comedically. Jet Eveleth started as my idol, then my mentor, and now my friend. I still can’t get over her art. Of all of the people I’ve listed above, no one has had an impact on my comedy like she does. She is one of a kind.

    When you're not acting, improvising or writing, what are you doing?
    Any of the following: Folding laundry, hanging out with my radical parents, visiting my radical grandma, camping, hanging out with my radical friends around Chicago, visiting my parents radical dogs, taking pictures, staring at pictures, inline skating, watching Annie Hall, riding a bike, or trying to figure out the combination to a lock I bought.

    By Pamela Birchard

    5/7/2013 Comments (0)
  • Apr 26 2013

    Offstage with Margaret Hicks

    The Second City has been giving walking tours of Chicago's historic Old Town neighborhood for five years. When Margaret Hicks returned to Chicago from New York in 2001, she told herself "I will never take Chicago for granted again." She started as a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation and now uses her improv skills to give tours with her company Chicago Elevated. We talked to Margaret about comedy in Chicago, her tour and her connection with The Second City.

    Tell us about the process of writing your book Chicago Comedy: A Fairly Serious History.
    That was a process. It's funny, when we think of comedy in Chicago, for a lot of us improvisers, it usually starts with Second City. So my want was to go all the way back, to the beginning. When I give Second City tours I always ask myself and the tourees, "Why Chicago?" What is it about this city that was a perfect womb for The Second City? So I started there. I started with what entertainment and comedy looked like in 1837. Then through Vaudeville and radio and TV and that Chicago naturalness, it's always there, even in the beginning.

    Tell us about some of the highlights of your Second City Neighborhood Tour.
    So the highlights of the walking tour are varied, which is why it's such a neat tour. Old Town is one of our most historic neighborhoods. There are these houses that are from right after the fire. So there's this really historic feeling with St. Michael's church and the balloon-frame houses, but then there's Old Town Ale House and the gentrification of Wells Street. And everyone at Second City has been so great, so I have some really great gossip I let fly.

    Are you doing any writing/acting/improvising right now?
    I am writing a show with my friend Sabrina Harper! She's the Second City box office manager and my best friend! We're writing Sweetie Maude - it's an all-lesbian version of Sweeney Todd. It will go up in September. I'm really excited about that! And I'm constantly writing new tours and learning new information about the city and trying to figure out new ways to connect the information.

    What plans do you have for the summer in Chicago?
    My plans are to work. It's a busy season which I think is excellent. My winters tend to be sort of quiet and introspective, so it's fun to get out and work in the summer.

    What are some of your other hobbies?
    I go to the movies a lot. I like the movies. I read. I ride my bike and run a little. Hang out. Dinner. I'm really big on dinner.

    Who are some of your biggest comedic influences?
    My comedic influences were definitely all of Whose Line. That's when I thought "I can do that." Honestly? My high school friends. Stand-ups like Dennis Miller. Oh man, back in the day he was so good! Almost more the people around me, my family and friends were so funny, they sharpened my brain as I grew up.

    What you’re not acting, writing or walking, what are you doing?
    I'm probably at home with my pup and my husband. Probably eating dinner.

    By Pamela Birchard

    4/26/2013 Comments (0)
  • Apr 19 2013

    Offstage with Rachel Mason

    Rachael Mason started improvising the second she could talk. She's been doing it for so long that it almost seems natural to her. She recently started as the The Second City Training Center's Head of Advanced Improvisation and loves teaching longer, more grounded improv. We talked with Rachael about Improv All-Stars, teaching and the training center.

    When did you first start improvising?
    Officially, In college in 1993. I was part of the Skidmore Ad-Liberal Artists and performed in The National College Comedy Festival. Both of which were founded by David Miner.

    You're the official Head of Advanced Improvisation at the Second City Training Center. How'd you get that title?
    I've worked tirelessly to hone my craft and voice. I ran the iO Training Center for 8 years writing curriculum and training teachers. At Second City I toured, wrote, and taught and helped to created the Advanced Improv curriculum under Jim Carlson. When he left I was thrilled to be interviewed for the position and even more excited to get the job.

    Tell us about some of the classes/workshops you teach here.
    I teach classes in Improv A-E, Writing 1-6, Musical Conservatory, and Advanced Improv. My most favorite classes to teach are Scenic Improv and Dramatic Improv, both of which deal with a more grounded type of scene work.

    What's your favorite part about teaching?
    I love watching someone get it. Comedy is such an abstract thing to try and convey so when someone gets a light bulb over their head it turns me on too. Gross.

    How is Improv All-Stars at UP Comedy Club different from some other performances you've done?
    The running order was masterfully crafted by Mick Napier. Its challenging to this old timer in the best way. There's fast and funny as well as long and grounded. There's music and games and scenes. I freakin' love it.

    What's one piece of advice you could give any potential future student?
    Don't beat yourself up over the last crappy scene you were in. It's already gone.

    Who are some of your biggest comedic influences?
    My parents, Lenny Bruce, Monty Python, George Carlin, Carol Burnett, Del Close, Mick Napier, Susan Messing.

    When you're not performing or teaching, what are you doing?
    I am playing with my young son... so I'm never not performing or teaching.

    By Pamela Birchard

    4/19/2013 Comments (0)
  • Apr 11 2013

    Offstage with Sarah Shook

    Sarah Shook has been all over The Second City this past year, performing as an understudy in Touring Company and holiday shows, and at UP Comedy Club in Improv Extravaganza Explosion and Four Girls (And A Guy). She's now a full-fledged member of the Touring Company, and is slated for a summer show at UP. We talked with Sarah about understudying, her love for pies and her biggest female influences.

    What have you worked on with Second City, and what’s next for you?
    The first things I really did for Second City were Twisty and BenchCo and then got hired to understudy the Touring Company. Understudying was awesome 'cause I got to do so many different shows and work with seasoned Second City folks as well as the up-and-comers like me. I ended up going in for two weeks once. And then a month later, I had to learn 3 different shows in one week. Understudying can be super stressful, but it's totally worth it.

    You're a transplant of Maryland. How did you get into acting and improvising?
    Oh man, I really had no intention of coming to Chicago. I wanted to move to New York with my best friend from home and she was the one that mentioned Chicago. I hated the idea. But I did theatre in college and I remember a girl in my class talking about Second City. And then one of my professors suggested I move here. I still wasn't convinced but the seed had been planted. I knew no one. I had never done improv and didn't even really know what Second City was. I've been here just over 3 years and I love it.

    What are some of your hobbies?
    Pie! I love baking pies, thinking of new recipes, reading about them. I'm a pie nerd. I used to bake a different pie every week and bring it to my conservatory class. I even have a website: I'll move onto another hobby before I start to sound too pie-thetic. And there we go...

    What movies, TV shows, etc. influence your comedic style?
    Oh man, I don't really know. I have movies that I love, like What About Bob and Waitress.

    What other comedians inspire you?
    Oh geez, so many! Growing up I watched I Love Lucy like it was my job. I was a huge Nick at Nite nerd. So I love the classics Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner. More recently, Jet Eveleth. I remember my conservatory teacher telling me to go watch her because she plays strong female characters. I think Jet is the only person in Chicago whose bits on stage have made me cry laughing. And of course the girls I play with. My friends who are out there just gettin' it done! Punam Patel, Claire Mulaney, Blair Beeken, Lily Sullivan. Seeing those girls work hard and kill it and knowing I work with them is inspiring.

    When you're not acting, improvising or writing, what are you doing?
    Probably talking to my cats. Or sitting on the couch with my roommate talking about my cats. I also like french films a lot or just good movies, ones that make you feel something. I LOVE being outside too. It's getting warm out, so you know I'll be trying to hit the beach for some beach volleyball. I just got a new bike. Trying new ice cream flavors. Baking pies. I like beers too, and karaoke!

    By Pamela Birchard

    4/11/2013 Comments (0)
  • Apr 2 2013

    Offstage with Chelsea Devantez

    One of the perks of being on The Second City Touring Company is travelling all over the country. Chelsea Devantez hates travelling. She says she gets severe panic attacks on flights. But somehow she makes it work. Because she loves being on the road with Second City. She tours for the satisfaction of those two hours spent on stage. And of course, her castmates. "Every single person on my company is just the best. They are all such good people, who are smart, collected and hilarious. I feel really lucky to tour with them," she says. We talked to Chelsea about how she got into comedy, what inspires her and of course, her best friend.

    How is performing Improv All-Stars at UP Comedy Club different for you than a Touring Company show?

    Well our TourCo shows are 90-percent scripted and we always perform with the same close knit cast, while the All-Stars are completely improvised and the cast is rotating. But some of my favorite improvised pieces ever are in the All-Stars show: a slow, patient 7-minute improv scene and an improvised musical.

    Tell us about your new pilot, Stupid Bitch Syndrome.

    We just launched it two weeks ago! Here’s the basic pitch: Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, travels from the future to change the ways of two emotionally destructive, busted best friends in order to save the world. Tawny Newsome, who is on The Second City mainstage, plays Blue Ivy and she's incredible in it. There are dozens of moments in the series that came from our actual lives.

    How has going through the Chicago improv world with your best friend helped you succeed?

    I've been so lucky to go through the comedy scene with Emily Walker. We met in our level 1 improv class, we did our first job for Second City performing on a cruise ship together and then got touring companies within months and now we are roommates. The business is brutal, sometimes in very subtle ways, but Emily and I keep each other strong; we pick each other up when we are failing and ugly-crying, we are front row when the other is succeeding, we're just always at each other's side. The best blackout I wrote this year happened because I told Emily I had an idea that would never work. So she starts acting it out in front of me, and I'd throw out the lines and she'd walk across the kitchen just trying them on, tinkering with it until it was perfect. Our friendship is insane because as humans in the real world we are opposites, but as comedians we are so similar it’s haunting. Watching tape of us improvising you’ll see us make the exact same joke at the same time, we sigh together, laugh at the same time, we both take the stage like tornados. We have other eerie similarities too.

    On your blog, you have a lot of videos of you singing. Tell us about some of the songs you write and perform.

    I would give anything to play an instrument. Andy Miara in the comedy studies program said something about being a blue collar comedian in the sense of – make it work, find a way. So I started finding free loops online and borrowing unlicensed stuff and piecing music together on Garage Band.

    What are some of your hobbies?

    Forcing strangers to move past small talk quickly. Seeing really shitty movies drunk. Reading business books -- I love them, they are self help books without the bullshit. And Zumba, I’m a certified instructor and only slightly ashamed.

    What comedians inspire you?

    I saw Amy Poehler in a lot of Asssssscat shows when I was in school in New York. That show is what got me into comedy. She is so strong onstage and also really playful. She makes really smart, strong moves but is having so much fun at every moment. Stand-up comedian Maria Bamford is my idol.

    When you’re not acting, improvising or writing, what are you doing?

    I watch shows like Dexter, Downton Abbey or the Bachelor, just ‘cause they are the ones where my brain turns off, there’s no analyzing of structure or jokes. I'll go dancing with friends, brunches, or skype with friends who are far away like my other bestie Jo Feldman. And I often sit with Emily in the kitchen just bullshitting and covering our nails in glitter.

    By Pamela Birchard

    4/2/2013 Comments (1)
  • Mar 19 2013

    Offstage with Daniel Strauss

    When The Second City paired up with University of Michigan-born theater company Team StarKid, a new sketch show, Airport for Birds, was born. Daniel Strauss of The Second City Touring Company and Team StarKid describes the group as "some super funny friends of mine from college who basically run the Internet," with their big hit "A Very Potter Musical." He says they tried to make the show very similar to a Second City show. "People brought in scripts or pitches, and we'd work them and rework them in rehearsals to get them to where we wanted," he says. We talked with Daniel about touring, video games and what influences his work.

    You have two more Airport for Birds shows left with them. Tell us about the show. How did you guys come up with it?

    Brian Holden and Meredith Stepien, two of my friends from StarKid, came to see me in one of my Second City Touring Company shows a while back. Afterwards, Brian mentioned he'd been talking to Kelly Leonard over at Second City about possibly putting up a sketch show with Team StarKid, and would that be something I'd be interested in working on. I'd wanted to get the chance to work with StarKid since they moved to Chicago, so it was a no-brainer for me. The title was Brian's idea, he wanted that title from the start. Which is a shame, because I think my title, Team StarKid Presents: The Daniel Strauss Story (A Tragicomedy in Four Acts) had a lot more zing to it.

    How did you get started at Second City?

    My first gig at Second City was the summer of 2006, as an intern. I had already seen a Second City show as a kid on a family vacation, but getting to be up close and behind the scenes at the theater was a pretty mind-blowing experience for me. By the end of that summer, I was sure I was moving to Chicago after school and that I wanted to work for Second City. I moved to Chicago and got hired by Second City almost instantly--to work in the box office. Which I did for two years. During that time, I was performing pretty much anywhere I could find a stage. Four months after I left the box office, I got the call to do a ship. And I got hired to understudy the Touring Company after I came back.

    What's your favorite part about touring?

    There are so many things. I would probably say getting to see parts of the country I would otherwise never have seen. We play a lot of small midwestern towns, and a few small southern towns, and it's like you're getting to sample this piece of America that you didn't even know existed before.

    Tell us about your web series Game Bros. How did the idea come about?

    So, Tim Ryder, my "Game Bros." co-star and I love playing video games. I was brainstorming ideas that would be fun/easy to shoot with a budget of $0, and the idea just kind of came to me. Tim and I toured together for about a year and a half, so we already have a bunch of bits that I thought would translate to the format of the show: two guys playing video games online and talking via their gaming headsets. Right now I'm on a pretty steady diet of Halo 4 and MLB The Show 2013. I'm super excited for Bioshock: Infinite, which cannot come out soon enough.

    Who's your biggest comic influence?

    Right now, I have to say Tim (Heidecker) and Eric (Wareheim). I can pretty much quote every episode of Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job! although I don't have to do it right now, because that would probably get annoying. That's probably the one comedy show that can make me fall out of my seat from laughing so hard.

    How do these things play into your improvisation and performance?

    I would say there's a certain irreverence in Tim and Eric's style that I try to bring to my work. Also, merciless mocking of all things related to the corporate business world, which I definitely try to incorporate.

    When you’re not acting, improvising or writing, what else are you doing?

    Probably hanging out with my wife, Rachel. There's also a 85% chance we're eating sushi.

    By Pamela Birchard

    3/19/2013 Comments (0)
  • Mar 13 2013

    Offstage with Mike Kosinski

    When e.t.c. actor Mike Kosinski first saw a Second City show, he knew that was what he wanted to do. But he was terrified of improv. To face his fear, he enrolled in the Second City Training Center. "Learning how to do it scenically is so different than just sitting around and joking with your friends," says Kosinski. Soon he was taking improv classes everywhere around the city of Chicago. He learned how to make choices to heighten certain scenes, and improv became the most rewarding and fun part of acting for him. He says he was "bitten by the improv bug."

    "Working for Second City was my dream when I moved to Chicago," he says. And that dream came true. He performed on four different cruise ships with Second City, spent a year in Denver for a Second City Theatricals show and spent a year and a half traveling with the Second City Touring Company. "Being paid to travel and do comedy with my friends was so great." He was lucky enough to travel all over the country, including Alaska, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Northern Europe. He says performing at all these different locations "keeps you humble."

    Mike is about to finish his first Second City e.t.c. revue and begin the writing process for our 37th revue at the end of this month. Before joining the e.t.c. company, most shows he performed were archived material. "These archive pieces are so time tested and we know they work. So then going from that to all original material, you don't know if it's going to work," he says. "There's almost a comfort and safety in doing a Steve Carell scene, but also there is this sense of responsibility to do those scenes as well as you can because your comedy idols wrote them."

    For Mike's first revue in the e.t.c. theatre, "We're All In This Room Together," Kosinski definitely took some risks with original material. The scene "Parents" he created involves bringing an audience member onstage to be introduced as his boyfriend. The cast goes on to perform an entire musical wedding with a different audience member every night. "It's definitely risky but I think with all things the more risk the better the payoff," he says. "I think it's always fun and the audience member is always really well protected." He recalls performing it at the Jeff Awards and receiving a standing ovation. For him, that was one of the most special moments for his career.

    "I am so excited to get new stuff in now," he says about the process of creating a new revue. "We're going to have a brand new show and I have no idea what that show will look like," he says. "Ultimately it's so rewarding." It's interesting to think that in three months time, they will have created a brand new show and he has no idea what it's going to look like. He says he is lucky to have such a great group of people to work with. "No matter what happens onstage, we know we're friends offstage."

    "The thing that I was most afraid of initially when I first saw a Second City show, which was improv, is now the thing I like most about a Second City show 'cause you never know what's going to happen."

    By Pamela Birchard

    3/13/2013 Comments (0)
  • Feb 28 2013

    Offstage with Jesse Case

    For the Jeff award-winning e.t.c. revue "We're All In This Room Together" the musical director, Jesse Case, focused on music that was thematic throughout the entire show, that helped smoothly move one scene to the next and resonated a familiar feeling with the audience. He may not always be seen on stage, but he is definitely heard.

    After moving here from Boulder, CO, "the place exists inside this sort of snow globe," he says, Jesse never thought he would find a place where he could combine his musical abilities and his theater degree so well. A musical improviser in his own right, this is his last revue with The Second City and his natural talent will be missed. We sat down with Jesse to talk about how he got to where he is today, what else he's worked on and how "after a while a point came where I realized that I'd inadvertently built something for myself out here that was durable enough to keep Boulder from pulling at me quite so intensely," he says.

    You've been the musical director for three Second City e.t.c. revues. How did you get to this point? Tell us the process.

    Well I was a Theatre Major at the University of Colorado and acted all through High School, but I've also played piano and written music since I was four or five. So it was always a "which one do I pick" type of situation. And then, a few months after I moved to Chicago, I was in a real rut - working at Borders and deep into my first winter here - and I happened to be looking at the Second City Training Center site and discovered they were accepting applications for this Musical Director internship. And when I read the description of what an MD did, this light went on because it was like exactly what I did, this perfect blend of music and theater. So I wrote this insanely enthusiastic email to Mike Descoteaux (the head of the music program at the time) who brought me into an audition, and shortly afterward I found myself on a cruise ship accompanying archive scenes and improvising. After that I just sort of moved up the ladder, another ship and then a year of touring and then they brought me on to the stage in February of 2010.

    What's the difference between musical direction and sound design?

    Nothing anymore, at least in the way that Second City defines musical direction. I think it's safe to say that MDs here have pretty much completely taken on the role of sound designer in addition to their accompaniment and compositional duties... which is great because that role used to be non-existent. The theater was originally a lot more of a straightforward cabaret-style revue where live music was the only music, and that helped give those first shows this really subtle, intelligent, subversive vibe. But as audiences and comedy in general and the aesthetic of the theater has grown and changed, the musical direction here - at least up until recently - has been notoriously slow about adapting to new technology accordingly. And today you can't be just a background piano player with some quiet-ass mix CDs anymore. You control everything the audience hears. That is an insane amount of power, and there's too much creative potential in it not to take full advantage.

    How would you describe your style?

    Well that's exactly it. What I really tried to do here was knock down whatever parts of the wall were left that separated those Sound Design and Musical Direction worlds. Over the three months that it takes to write a new show I try to build a detailed world for the show to exist in, and everything I do - my composition and arrangements, the way I play, the way I have the actors sing or guide their songwriting, the instruments I pick, the sounds and songs and genres of music I use - all is meant to help build that world in a unified way.

    What are you listening to right now?

    Dubstep. 24/7.

    Tell us about your collaboration with The Second City and Lyric Opera.

    It is seriously the coolest thing ever and I'm insanely lucky to be a part of it. The short story is that [famed Soprano and Lyric Opera creative consultant] Renee Fleming came to see an e.t.c. show in which I had sampled her voice singing parts of Verdi's Requiem and a couple of Handel arias... and instead of getting pissed about it she got in touch with me through the people at Lyric and suggested some kind of collaboration. So I brought the idea to Kelly Leonard and the rest is history.

    Basically the other writers and I learned everything about the world of Opera that we could, talked to everyone and went to everything, and then we went and wrote a thousand jokes about it and plugged them in to a two-act revue. It's been amazing. I'm composing and arranging for these absolutely top-notch singers and musicians, and performing my music in this gorgeous theater where some of the best music of all time is also performed, and it's been totally incredible, not to mention completely terrifying.

    What are some other projects you've worked on outside of The Second City?

    I've generally tried (with limited success) to venture outside the comedy world, mostly working as a designer and composer for other theaters like Single Carrot in Baltimore, and I write my own music (usually not funny) and music for other people (usually funny). I love scoring movies and producing beats, and about a year and a half ago I produced a 41-track hip hop album for TJ Miller that came out on Comedy Central Records. It's called the Extended Play E.P. and I'm proud to say we earned that title.

    Out of all the instruments you play, which one's your favorite? Why?

    Gotta be the piano, yo! It's what I write on and how I think about music. After that probably drums. I'm a very percussive piano player as it is, so it's nice to occasionally ditch all the chords and theory and whatnot and just beat the crap out of something.

    Whether it be lyrics or poems, what do you often find yourself writing about?

    I think I approach comedic and non-comedic writing in pretty much the same way - I try to find a specific element of the subject at hand that I can relate to personally and expound on that, because I find that if I can relate to that particular element, and I write about it in an honest and direct way, other people usually can relate to it too. And I think that's the ultimate goal of any type of creative work, comedic or not - relatable self-expression. So the pretentious answer is that I write about the common human experience, and the better answer is that I write about a lot of different things but I try to be honest about them in whatever way I can.

    When you're not writing, improvising, acting or playing music, what are you doing?

    Not much. I'm one-track-minded to an unhealthy degree about what I do. If I'm not doing it I'm reading about it or trying to find someone who will pay me to do it. In my down time I guess mostly you can find me on the couch with my lady watching movies, or at the gym halfheartedly lifting whatever weight the last person left on the machine.

    You're leaving us on February 28th! What are you going to do instead?

    I have no idea. Which is kind of the point of leaving, I think.

    By Pamela Birchard

    2/28/2013 Comments (0)