"A glimpse into the fresh vision for the future" from Black artistic leaders
For 60 years, The Second City has created hilarious sketch comedy using improvisation. Among the simple rules one must follow to be a successful improviser - say yes to anything that comes your way, and when the unexpected occurs you must accept it and adapt. Those aren’t just guidelines for a good improv scene, they’re the foundation upon which Second City is built. Across the years, as we’ve brought audiences together to laugh, have taught countless people how to master the art of improvisation, or helped businesses become better communicators and stronger teams, there has perhaps never been a time when those founding principles have been put to the test more than they are now.
As the necessity for the Covid-19 shutdowns became a reality and self-isolation quickly became the new normal, it was clear that all Second City offerings would need to be postponed for everyone’s safety. The stages were closed and classes canceled in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles. Touring productions and corporate workshops were called off and it looked as though that would be the end of things until we could safely be together again. As Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts began popping up throughout the organization, it became clear that “yes and” aren’t just words we teach our students to say - it truly is a spirit that runs in our veins. Suddenly, conversations were changing from “Well, we can’t perform or teach improv online” to “Yes, and - I think we can do this!”
And that was all it took - accepting and adapting - saying yes, and. Before you knew it, each branch of The Second City was finding ways to take their particular brand of magic online and it’s working better than we could have dreamed. And that’s mostly due to our unfailing secret weapon - you. Our students, corporate partners and audiences have enthusiastically joined us on this new virtual adventure and have had some wonderful things to say. Allow us to share a little bit about what we’ve been up to...
“Thank you for providing an incredibly fresh hour of much needed laughter”
Since the stage lights illuminated the very first revue back in 1959, we’ve been on a mission to bring people together through thought-provoking humor that’s both worldly and personalized. When you take in a show at 1616 North Wells, whether you’re from Bucktown or Belgium, you can still find the humor in a 2003 song about the rebuilt Soldier Field looking like a toilet on the lake, or feel the excruciating pain and hilarity of a scene that relives the moment when Steve Bartman reached out and made that fateful grab.
Now, for the first time in Second City history, we citizens of the world are inhabiting one global virtual neighborhood. Through our online shows, we’ve so far welcomed over 17,000 viewers from places such as Brazil, London, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Djibouti and more. We may not be able to sit together and laugh in a darkened theater, but we can come together from every corner of the planet to watch comedy online.
Within two weeks of “taking an intermission,” we launched not one but three new virtual shows. Improv House Party features some of SC’s most talented performers and alumni doing live improv driven by your suggestions and streamed straight into your bedroom! (Nice PJs - we don’t judge.) We’ve also teamed up with streaming service Topic to create The Last Show Left on Earth - a raucous collection of sketches, songs, animation, rare archive footage and more, all hosted by beloved alumni. And if you’ve got kiddos at home right now, (and if so - bless you!) you’re undoubtedly looking for ways to fill an hour with laughter and fun. Look no further than The Really Awesome Improv Show, the family-friendly romp that has run for a decade at Second City Hollywood. The energetic and quick-witted cast plays games geared toward the whole family that are guaranteed to keep your kids giggling and engaged!
“It’s really fun and faster paced! We had a great time”
The Second City Training Center has long offered online classes in writing, stand-up and storytelling. But improv - an art form that relies on working together to create something from nothing - studied online? It works! Who knew? When we closed down our three training centers for the safety of our students and faculty, it wasn’t long before we found a way to offer virtual improv classes and our students responded by letting us know it was a bright spot in their week.
For some, improv training can mean a lot more than a simple comedy class. For instance, our Improv for Autism class, part of our Wellness program, provides crucial socialization for those who may not always find that the easiest thing to do. We’re so happy to be able to help these students meet virtually and they are embracing this new curveball with gusto. The class allows them to have a wonderful time, while maintaining all-important social contact.
And now, a month into this new virtual training center, we’re thrilled to see that the limitless reach of the internet is allowing us to welcome students from across the globe. People are taking classes in Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Paris, Spain, Cape Town - one new class is being taught solely in Japanese. And the best part of all is the much-needed break of laughter and camaraderie these classes are providing teachers and students alike. A recent visitor to one of our drop-in classes expressed it this way - “I loved being able to collaborate with people from all walks of life. It was so much fun to be able to meet and interact with others.” Whether people are looking to study improv, writing, acting, standup or more - this very challenging time has created one bright spot in the opportunity to bring Second City classes to a new global student body.
Second City Works
“That was the best zoom meeting I’ve ever been on”
There’s a simple saying that serves as an ever-useful reminder when improvising on stage - you must play the scene you’re in. The more you try to force things to drive your own agenda, the quicker the scene falls apart. Over the years, we’ve discovered this rule is also extremely helpful in successful business management. And never has the ability to pivot and react to the current moment been more necessary to the corporate world than it is now.
Our corporate training division, Second City Works, partners with companies and individuals to apply the ideologies of improv - agreement & teamwork - to create professional development, content and corporate events that foster growth. But, this current moment has forced us to “play the scene we’re in” as well. How does a division based on hosting large corporate events continue to be effective when employees can’t be together? The answer was simple: we help people adapt. So, if companies must adapt to a solely virtual business world, we can help there too. Within a week, Second City Works created new strategies to assist companies in fighting video conferencing fatigue, as well as creating on-demand corporate learning videos and offering virtual keynotes and workshops.
The result has been tremendous. In a workshop designed to highlight equal parts change readiness and morale boost, one participant enthusiastically responded, “I haven’t laughed that hard in weeks!” That warms our hearts during a time when we’re all seeking a reason to smile. And hearing another client say it was “the best Zoom meeting I’ve ever been on” is high praise indeed, considering our days are suddenly filled with unending virtual meetings.
The Second City has always been proud to bring audiences together to share a laugh, even in the hardest of times. This new cultural landscape may be with us, to varying degrees, for quite a while. So, now more than ever, we are honored to help bring audiences, students, and business leaders from across the globe together to share the power of humor, to learn a new skill, or to remain effective in business. And hopefully, along the way we can brighten people's days. Who knew that being physically separated could bring us so much closer together?
- Nancy Hayden (Artistic Director, The Second City Training Center Chicago)