UPDATED: June 10, 2021 The Second City Adds Stephen Colbert, Chris Henchy, Larry Irving, Brad Jenkins, Laura Kennedy and Chris Licht to Board of Directors Colbert to Chair The Second…
UPDATED: June 10, 2021
The Second City Adds Stephen Colbert, Chris Henchy, Larry Irving, Brad Jenkins, Laura Kennedy and Chris Licht to Board of Directors
Colbert to Chair The Second City Artistic Advisory Board to Advocate for Artists and Support the Institution’s World-Class Comedy
NEW YORK and CHICAGO, Thursday, June 10, 2021 – ZMC and The Second City, the world’s premier brand in improvisation and sketch-based comedy entertainment and education, announced today the following appointments to its Board of Directors, effective Thursday, June 10, 2021:
- Stephen Colbert, Host of The Late Show on CBS
- Chris Henchy, Co-Founder of Funny Or Die
- Larry Irving, Operating Partner and Chief ESG Advisor at ZMC
- Brad Jenkins, CEO of Enfranchisement Productions, Senior Advisor of The Asian American Foundation, and Co-Founder of Phenomenal Productions
- Laura Kennedy, CEO of Avalon
- Chris Licht, Showrunner and Executive Producer of The Late Show
Additionally, Stephen Colbert will chair The Second City’s Artistic Advisory Board to advocate for artists throughout the organization as it continues to grow its 62-year-old brand of iconic, world-class comedy.
“As a young comedian, The Second City was my artistic home where I learned my chops and had the freedom to fail with my friends. I want to help keep it that way,” said Colbert.
“With this slate of comedy legends and talented leaders, we are more confident than ever in The Second City’s ability to continue to grow the brand and innovate,” said Jordan Turkewitz, Co-Chief Investment Officer and Managing Partner at ZMC. “We are just beginning to write this new chapter of the company together, and we’re excited to do so alongside the incredible artists who make this theater iconic.”
“We could not do better than to have an icon like Stephen helping us in our mission to grow The Second City in a way that honors the art and the brand, as well as provides a platform for a broader pool of talent,” said Parisa Jalili, The Second City Chief Operating Officer. “The Second City name has become synonymous with comedic excellence, and we owe that to the talent, staff, alumni and audiences that form our community.”
The Second City Artistic Advisory Board will be announced in full at a later date.
Visit The Second City’s Board of Directors page for bios.
We’re excited to announce the winners of the Yes And Awards! Biannually each year, we will be highlighting folks who have demonstrated excellence at the Second City.
One person was selected for each category based on employee nominations. The People Team, Leadership, and the DEI Council decided the winners.
- Yes And RESILIENCY Award: Dwayne (Steve) Colbert
- Yes And ENSEMBLE Award, Tija Freimuta
- Yes And Diversity & Inclusion Award, Lisa Akroush
- Yes And PERFORMANCE Award, Tree Branch
- Yes And AUTHENTICITY Award, Kimmie Companik-Warner
- Yes And TEACHER SUCCESS Award, PHATT Al
- Yes And CUSTOMER SUCCESS Award, Mack Dalton
ZMC to partner with The Second City’s management team to grow iconic brand and build an industry leader in diversity, equity and inclusion
NEW YORK, Feb. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — ZMC said today that it has acquired The Second City, the world’s premier brand in improvisation and sketch-based comedy entertainment and education. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Founded in Chicago in 1959, The Second City is an iconic brand that has become the most influential and prolific comedy empire in the world. The company has expanded beyond the theatrical stage in Chicago, establishing a strong and growing presence in North America through dozens of partnerships, among thousands of students, and with hundreds of Fortune 1000 clients.
“We are very excited to partner with management and the incredible talent at The Second City to grow the brand and build a diverse organization that elevates all voices,” said Jordan Turkewitz, Co-Chief Investment Officer and Managing Partner at ZMC. “Over its sixty-year history, The Second City has been home to some of the most beloved names in comedy, and we plan on building the next generation of comedy talent by investing in people and creativity.”
Steve Johnston, The Second City President, said: “We are thrilled to work with ZMC as we continue to transform the company into an equitable and thriving environment while delivering world-class comedy to our audiences. I want to thank the talent, staff, alumni and audiences of The Second City for supporting us on our journey.”
Houlihan Lokey acted as financial advisor and Mayer Brown LLP acted as legal advisor to The Second City. Sidley Austin LLP acted as legal advisor to ZMC.
ZMC is a leading private equity firm comprised of experienced investors and executives that invests in and manages a diverse group of media and communications enterprises. Founded in 2001, ZMC’s investment philosophy centers on operational value creation driven by targeted investment themes, deep sector expertise, and strong partnerships with industry and operating executives. ZMC approaches its investments in collaboration with management teams and has a successful track record of actively adding value to portfolio companies. ZMC is currently investing out of ZMC III, L.P., which closed on $775 million in commitments. See www.zmclp.com to learn more.
Gladstone Place Partners
Lauren Odell / Patricia Figueroa
The Second City is pleased to announce that the following people have been selected to join the company’s inaugural DEI Council members for 2021:
- Lisa Akroush, Chicago
- Jenna Steege, Chicago
- Rick Young, Chicago
- Ayumi Iizuka, Hollywood
- Nagashree Thovinakere, Toronto
- Cat McDonnell, Chicago
- Isaac Esparza, Hollywood
- Phatt Al, Toronto
The purpose of the committee is to serve as a governance and accountability team ensuring that The Second City is working to positively influence the industry and its various communities through:
- Providing access to, removing barriers from, and serving underrepresented communities and audiences throughout the Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles areas
- Contributing to the company’s overarching goal of being an inclusive and anti-racist organization in all aspects of operation and culture
- Attracting, supporting, and retaining new creative talent
- Developing and maintaining partnerships with outside organizations that expand Second City’s influence and lead-by-example model in the industry, setting the standard for the way other creative institutions effectively implement DEI as a business driver
Please join us in congratulating them, and we look forward to the positive influence this council will make at The Second City in the coming months.
Recent additions and promotions continue the comedy institution’s transformation
CHICAGO — In a continued effort to build an equitable and thriving environment for talent, staff, and audiences alike, The Second City announces today a new leadership hire and several recent moves to bolster diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives that reach every corner of the legendary comedy company. Ashley Bugeja joins as vice president of human resources to lead The Second City’s culture transformation, which includes implementing all people and DEI strategies in partnership with the company’s chief diversity officer. Bugeja has held HR leadership positions at tech firms including NICE, Infosys, Unisys, and Computer Science Corporation (CSC). A Detroit native, she holds a master’s degree from Roosevelt University and earned her bachelor’s degree at Adrian College.
Bugeja’s hire is the latest leadership move for The Second City, which announced last week that Jon Carr has been hired as executive producer. Additional leadership news at the company includes the promotion of Parisa Jalili to chief operating officer. Jalili is focused on improving operations that optimize the talent, staff and customer experience. Prior to joining The Second City as vice president of sales operations in 2019, Jalili worked in global sales enablement and operations for Verizon. Originally from the Bay Area, she graduated from the University of California Irvine with a degree in cognitive sciences.
“The unprecedented challenges of 2020 have only served as opportunities to reassess our priorities as a company and focus on keeping our audiences laughing. We strive to demonstrate our support and commitment to creating a safe and equitable environment as we recognize diversity in our people, backgrounds and experiences is critical for us to flourish. We are thrilled to have an experienced and results-driven COO like Parisa chartering the path to our long-term success,” says Steve Johnston, president of The Second City.
Additional leadership roles that will be guiding the company’s transformation include:
Christal Morris, Ed.D, interim chief diversity officer
Elizabeth Howard, vice president of production
Colleen Fahey, vice president of marketing and sales operations
Abby Wagner, vice president of customer success
CHICAGO — After a coast-to-coast search, The Second City is pleased to announce Jon Carr has been selected as the legendary comedy institution’s new executive producer, effective December 15, 2020. Los Angeles–born Carr most recently was artistic director for Dad’s Garage Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. A seasoned improviser, performer, and award-winning playwright with nearly 20 years of industry experience, he has been part of Atlanta’s creative community for more than 15 years, where, among his many creative accomplishments, he held the position of audience development manager at Alliance Theatre and founded United Atlanta Improv to help improv theatres around the city come together through collaborative works. With his Dad’s Garage improv group “Dark Side of the Room,” Carr has worked with the Center for Civil and Human Rights, performing across North America. His original play Black Nerd was awarded the 2018 Suzi Bass Award for Best Original Play. Carr holds a degree in marketing and business administration from Georgia State University.
“The Second City has been an improv, comedy, and cultural institution speaking truth to power for decades, and that will continue,” Carr said. “I look forward to being a champion for all voices to be authentically amplified and, of course, funny as hell.”
As executive producer of all three locations in Chicago, Toronto, and Hollywood, Carr will oversee all of The Second City’s creative work across its theaters, educational programs, and business services, as well as the company’s pivot to streaming performances and online classes.
Carr succeeds Anthony LeBlanc, who served as The Second City’s interim executive producer in June. LeBlanc will return to his role at Nickelodeon in Los Angeles, where he has been an acting coach since 2018. “We are lucky to have found someone like Jon. He’s the perfect combination of hilarious performer and artistic leader who not only has a deep knowledge of comedy and collaborative work, but also a new and fresh perspective that will lead Second City towards a bright future,” said LeBlanc.
“Jon Carr is the perfect person to navigate The Second City through this exciting time with all the humor, artistic vision, and flexibility required…and that’s what improv is all about,” said Steve Johnston, Second City president. “As we move forward, we build on a more than 60-year legacy that brings us to a brand-new chapter for the company, filled with promise and possibilities.”
Carr will be based in Chicago. He will be joined by his partner Annie Davis and looks forward to making homeschooled kids like himself proud.
For press inquiries, please contact Treetop Consulting to schedule interviews. Please note, Jon Carr will be available for interviews after December 15.
As we continue to work toward honoring our commitment to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment where our employees can thrive –both on and off our stages – The Second City has selected 22 members from our community to participate on three interim DEI committees:
- Serve on the interview panel for the EP finalist candidates
- Review The Second City’s archive scripts
- Evaluate visual artwork and photography displayed within our buildings
The committee members were selected from a group of applicants that included current staff members, talent, and students from all three Second City locations.
- 95% self-identify as a member of a diverse group
- 77% are members of the BIPOC, Latinx, and/or APIMEDA communities
- 13% are involved in Second City development programs or are advanced students, including HouseCo members, Second City Training Center Conservatory students, or previous Bob Curry fellows
A standing DEI council will be announced this fall and convene in January 2021. Each member will be asked to serve for a year to further define and support Second City’s objectives of becoming an inclusive, welcoming environment able to attract and retain diverse talent and help them advance their careers.
The Second City is pleased to announce we are now seeking applicants for the full-time executive producer position. This individual will be responsible for achieving Second City’s mission to develop, produce, and present socially conscious, thought-provoking comedic work that fully engages audiences; establishing and fulfilling the artistic vision of the company; and representing and promoting the company to external constituents at all levels. The EP will join the executive leadership team (CFO, COO, and other key leaders) to foster Second City’s success. Integral to the role will be ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion policies and practices are integrated into casting, scripts, audience development, and external partnerships.
To view the full job opening and apply, please click here. (Link expired)
This is an exciting time in Second City’s history to begin a new chapter, and we look forward to the process of selecting our new EP.
– The Second City Leadership Team
The Second City is thrilled to announce that VP of Sales Operations Parisa Jalili has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer, effective immediately.
“Parisa is uniquely qualified to step into the role of COO as we redesign,” says Second City President Steve Johnston. “Her extensive prior leadership experience with effectively driving and implementing new processes and systems in the corporate world is an incredible asset to complement Second City’s new creative leadership, as much of her work will focus on guaranteeing our DEI transformation reaches all corners of the organization.”
“This is an incredible opportunity in Second City’s history to rebuild everything for tangible, lasting results that ensure the company is communicating and functioning better than ever. I’m excited to dig in and get to work, because I know Second City is beyond capable of immense positive change during this transformative time in the company’s history,” says Jalili.
Prior to joining The Second City in 2019, Jalili worked in global sales enablement and operations for Verizon.
Vantage Solutions has been selected as The Second City’s human resources consulting firm, effective June 18, 2020. As an independent Black, female-owned HR firm with vast experience in fostering candor, trust, and inclusion in organizations nationwide, Vantage Solutions will provide end-to-end management of all of Second City’s HR functions.
Specifically, Vantage will:
- Investigate claims of workplace discrimination, harassment, assault and abuse
- Institute a code of conduct that creates a culture of candor where talent/employees are safe to report misconduct and free from retaliation
- Design the human resources structure and a multiyear strategic plan that aligns with The Second City’s business goals and optimizes the employee experience
“We are fully committed to this work,” says Vanessa L. Smith, Managing Director, Vantage Solutions LLC. “We understand the scope and scale of what is required to transform Second City’s culture. We only undertake this challenge because SC realizes the urgency in making these changes and is fully dedicated to these efforts. Second City is serious. And we are, too.”
Since 1998, Vantage Solutions has worked with senior leaders to develop top-down solutions to attract, develop, advance, and retain diverse talent. The company’s multidisciplinary, comprehensive understanding, combined with its strategic methodology, helps clients achieve business success through their human capital.
Vantage professionals’ broad knowledge and flexibility has enabled the company to provide solutions across private sector industries, including technology, transportation, healthcare, advertising and marketing, and other professional services. The company’s public sector work spans federal, state, and municipal governments and quasi-government entities. It also provides services for non-profits, from local affiliates to organizations’ national headquarters.
“Vantage is confident that The Second City’s decision to partner with our team will help bring management and employees together to build a culture of which past, present and future talent can be proud,” Smith says.
Vantage Solutions has established The Second City Hotline at 847-665-9050 to seek additional input from The Second City community.
CLM & Associates, led by Dr. Christal Morris, has been selected as The Second City’s DEI partner, effective immediately. An experienced leader in building inclusive cultures, Dr. Morris’s multiyear, four-phase strategy outlines the following goals:
- Analyze, diagnose, design, deliver, and evaluate creative DEI strategies, tactics, and programs to dismantle existing institutionalized discriminatory practices and unleash fair, equitable operations for staff, talent, audiences, students and teachers
- Create opportunities for teachers and those with influence to recognize biases and blind spots and consider them when making decisions about scripts, talent, curriculum, sales, and daily operations
- Create an inclusion council to serve as a governing body to hold leaders accountable and act as a selection committee for a newly created DEI leadership role
“I am thrilled to have been selected as The Second City’s DEI partner, and I look forward to leading the efforts to align talent and people priorities with business priorities. Realizing and embracing the value Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will bring to the organization will be a rewarding experience for Second City’s employees, students, clients, and the communities they serve,” says Dr. Morris.
Dr. Christal Morris has worked for many Fortune 500 organizations leading human capital functions, diversity, and inclusion. She served as Global Head of Inclusion, Diversity for Willis Towers Watson where she was responsible for developing and implementing inclusion and diversity efforts for over 40,000 colleagues located in more than 120 countries. Her portfolio included broadening leadership accountability for diversity through targeted visible leadership commitment; design and delivery of diversity and inclusion courses to address unconscious bias and cross-cultural competence, as well as talent management and work-life flexibility programs. She has also held leadership roles in healthcare, entertainment, and manufacturing organizations. Originally from San Diego, California, Morris is a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with a master’s degree in organizational management and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology.
Anthony LeBlanc was interviewed by WBEZ about Second City’s commitment to building an equitable, inclusive, anti-racist company. Listen to the interview here.
After a brief introduction from Anthony LeBlanc, Steve Johnston, and D’Arcy Stuart, human resources executive and licensed attorney Maya Bordeaux summarized the themes from the Second City town hall meetings, describing how the company has fallen short and failed its staff and talent. She explained how her recommended best practices align with the changes The Second City has committed to implementing in order to overhaul its operations and culture. Ms. Bordeaux recommended action under the following 5 diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) pillars:
RECOMMENDED DEI STRATEGY FRAMEWORK
Infrastructure Recommended Best Practices Include:
- Enhanced DEI Mission & Vision of Success Statements
- Create Chief DEI Officer role
- Create DEI HR policies and enforce with staff, talent, and customers
- Set annual DEI goals and metrics for talent acquisition and retention
- Create DEI dedicated webpage with employee testimonials and features on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ staff and talent
Communication Recommended Best Practices Include:
- Design communication strategy that provides regular flow of communication from senior leadership
- Create regular forums to discuss DEI matters with leadership
- Promote the forming of employee resource groups
- Establish an employee newsletter that provides company updates and employee features
Education Recommended Best Practices Include:
- Design and implement mandatory regular company-provided DEI education
- Require continuing external DEI education for leadership and decision makers
- Require demonstration of cultural competence proficiency and recent education completed to advance
Employee Engagement Recommended Best Practices Include:
- Conduct regular engagement survey & hold regular focus groups with employees to measure progress and seek feedback
- Implement process for providing ideas and suggestions
- Conduct pay equity study
- Create non-monetary reward and recognition program
Community Engagement Recommended Best Practices Include:
- Share DEI goals and progress externally
- Appoint a Second City community liaison
- Schedule customer appreciation community events
- Create content that engages more diverse audiences by engaging and surveying community members
- Commit to volunteer at events in underserved communities that staff and talent do together
- Issued response to open letter from Black alumni on June 11
- Contract with an independent BIPOC-owned Human Resources firm to assist with current and impending employee relations matters and investigations
- Contract with an independent BIPOC-owned DEI consulting firm to design and implement company-wide DEI strategy
- Establish Steering Committee to hire permanent Executive Producer
- Issue internal and external statements regarding above immediate action plans with timelines and accountable parties
- Discuss short-term actions of DEI Strategy recommendations and determine responsible parties to implement in near term
Following the presentation, Interim Executive Producer Anthony LeBlanc announced the first action items that will be going into effect with support of Second City leadership, including Parisa Jalili, VP of Sales Operations, who will lead and oversee the implementation of new initiatives, systems, and processes. Parisa’s extensive experience in operational strategy and implementation at scale across large businesses is a valuable asset to Second City’s rebuilding.
The Second City’s Action Item Updates – Updated as of June 20, 2020:
OPERATIONS & COMMUNICATION
- The search for a BIPOC-owned DEI firm has been narrowed to three, and we are on track to announce our selection by June 26, 2020.
- Vantage Solutions is confirmed as the outside HR consulting firm that will be spearheading the process of reviewing allegations and beginning investigations.
- Efforts are underway to vet solutions for the creation of an accessible digital knowledge base that can hold and house all information, education, and training materials for employees as we build our new systems, processes, and DEI implementation.
- We have begun consolidating and redesigning all distribution lists to improve overall communication with staff and our community and assure that everyone who should be receiving information will be on our email lists.
- The framework of our newsletter will be restructured to operationalize transparency and communication. Cadence and timeline to be shared soon.
- All Second City spaces will receive a facelift to focus on who we are. Instead of taking a historical focus, our lobbies and walls will highlight our recent talent and accomplishments, and will be updated on a regular basis, reflecting all three cities and keeping an eye towards highlighting the contributions of those who may have been traditionally disregarded or forgotten.
- Any perceived or potentially offensive art, photos, or illustrations on the walls of SC will be removed.
- The backstage walls at all locations will be carefully documented as historical property and then repainted.
- A thoughtful, thorough review of all archive scripts and external media will begin with the purpose of flagging—and removing—outdated and/or problematic content from general use for classes or shows. The full archives will be accessible only for internal historical access or advanced development usage (e.g., director development). Anything flagged in full archive will receive a disclaimer/warning. Any flagged content can be considered for general usage only if it is edited to remove all flagged content and that edit is approved by the managers of the overall project.
- Touring opportunities will be evaluated with safety in mind. Potential partners, venues, etc., will be proactively vetted.
- All directors, producers, stage managers, and music directors will receive ongoing anti-racist education and training.
- We will eliminate having alumni status as one of the barriers to teach across all TC locations.
- A paid shadow program will begin in Term 4 for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ potential teachers to learn the basics of our online class model, moving to an in-person shadow when capacity limits are increased. This program is intended to broaden our teacher population.
- Outreach to local grade schools and high schools will include sponsoring a free student workshop once a month (at minimum) in each city.
- Initial anti-racist education and training with the Kaleidoscope Group will take place this month for all camp staff.
SECOND CITY WORKS
- Diversify our facilitator talent by removing barriers to these opportunities and being transparent about how SCW operates and recruits.
- Integrate DEI frameworks in the design of all products and services.
The Second City will be hosting a webinar presentation updating you on The Second City’s commitment to overhauling our culture, operations, and infrastructure on Saturday, June 20 at 2:30 PM PT/ 4:30 PM CT/ 5:30 PM ET. The meeting will last approximately one hour. Please register here to receive the webinar link.
As Second City has committed to transparency and accountability, this presentation by HR consultant and attorney Maya Bordeaux and Second City leadership is the next step in our rebuilding process. If you are unable to attend or would prefer to be updated digitally, Second City’s commitments and action items will also be available here by Sunday afternoon.
The Second City shared this response to open letters shared by our BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, APIMEDA, and related feedback.
The Second City announces that the company’s new Interim Executive Producer is Anthony LeBlanc, effective immediately. Most recently, LeBlanc has served as an Artistic Director for The Second City, as well as an acting coach for Nickelodeon and part-time faculty member at Columbia College Chicago. LeBlanc is a Second City alum who wrote and performed in two original Chicago Mainstage revues. He has been a teacher and resident director for the company, directing several resident stage and theatrical productions in Chicago and Washington, D.C., including Soul Brother, Where Art Thou? for The Second City e.t.c. and the Helen Hayes-nominated Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. A native of Beaumont, Texas, LeBlanc holds a degree in Computer Science and Physics from Loyola University New Orleans.
“While The Second City has sometimes made strides in the diversity of talent performing on our stages, we have grossly fallen short when it comes to supporting that talent–and diversity at Second City–as whole. We must face the reality of our failings as an organization and hear the voices of our BIPOC performers, alumni, staff, students, and audience. We need to do better…because our community deserves better. I, along with the rest of the leadership of The Second City, are committed to making fundamental and long lasting changes to our company and the many communities we touch. I look forward to being a part of those changes and helping Second City catch up to the present, and, in turn, move towards a better future,” says LeBlanc.
The Second City will also begin its search for a long term Executive Producer as previously announced.
Everyone wants a response, but there are no set of words right now that will be enough. There is no excuse. The Second City has made so many mistakes, and we–the leadership–are sorry. And now we are putting our energy behind taking action, even if the community doesn’t feel that we have the right. In this moment, you deserve to hear clear, specific actions that will be taken.
Today, it was announced that The Second City’s CEO and Executive Producer, Andrew Alexander, is stepping down, fully removing himself from overseeing The Second City’s operations and policies and divesting from the company as it stands. The next person to fill the Executive Producer position will be a member of the BIPOC community.
Additionally, we commit to taking the following actions. This is just a start, and we will update you regularly.
The Second City commits to reviewing internal hiring, casting, and student recruitment practices to ensure we are actively identifying and removing barriers to access and opening the doors to BIPOC in every area of the company.
The Second City commits to using our resources to produce art by and for BIPOC artists and diversifying audiences in our theaters.
We commit to company wide anti-racist training and education
The Second City will make ongoing financial and in-kind donations to organizations working to dismantle systems of oppression, as well as to Black-owned businesses and schools in underserved communities.
No effective plan for completely rebuilding our diversity, inclusion and equity standards can be created without representation at the decision-making level. As an ensemble-based community, we welcome new ideas and the betterment of existing ones. Please share your ideas here.
Hold The Second City accountable.
To the Staff, Alumni, Students, and Audience Members of The Second City:
After the fallout from the closure of the groundbreaking “A Red Line Runs Through It,” The Second City tried to begin to grapple with the institutionalized racism in our society and within our own walls that allowed such a traumatic event to fester and has created lasting pain for our employees and artists. However, we failed.
There are so many things we didn’t do, but one of the things we did do was to engage facilitators in the field of anti-racism. I bring this up to acknowledge that it didn’t work. White employees of the Second City, myself included, participated in regular sessions taking place over months which outlined in detail the inherent biases in white society, and how those, consciously and unconsciously, oppress BIPOC. Two years ago, I learned about one of the pillars of what I understand to be central to the Black Lives Matter movement: it is not enough to not be a racist; you must be anti-racist.
The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life. The irony is that what attracts so many people to Second City – myself included – is that it gives a public platform to a group of people to speak truth to power and use the undeniable power of comedy to force a recognition of injustice. Over the years, Second City has never shied away from talking about oppression. On stage, we have always been on the right side of the issue, and of that, I am very proud. On stage, we dealt with the absurdity of the equal opportunity narrative that society uses to oppress BIPOC. We dealt with the double standard that rationalizes violence against people of color. We dealt with the cynicism of the liberal pact with capitalism. Offstage, it’s been a different story.
The company has grown significantly – yet culturally homogeneously. There is no excuse for it, and I am not defending it. I succumbed to (what I now realize was) my unconscious biases, the biases of the theater community, and the biases of the city in which The Second City is embedded. I surrounded myself with people mostly of my own race and culture. As a theater producer, I like to think I have good instincts, not just commercially, but also as it relates to what is right. As an administrator, I have not always had good instincts. While diversifying the theater artistically, I failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.
The damage for this failure is done, and it’s part of the legacy of the institution I love. I care deeply about that legacy, as you might imagine, and certainly believe that on balance (even though many don’t agree right now) we have been a force for good, and change, and hope in an ugly world. To make matters worse, the theater is struggling financially as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 closures. As you know, many of our staff members have been furloughed, including BIPOC staff members. The company is not in a position to make major financial reparations at this time, if that is indeed what’s being asked. That, of course, is not the fault of anyone who has suffered from racial injustice. It’s my hope and belief that we can find multiple ways to contribute to Black Lives Matter and the many organizations working to dismantle institutionalized racism.
One thing I can do, and am doing now, ensures that the next iteration of The Second City, whatever that might be – that place for underdogs that captured me and saved my life many years ago – is led by a real underdog. I am stepping down and fully removing myself from overseeing The Second City’s operations and policies and will divest myself from the company as it stands. The next person to fill the Executive Producer position will be a member of the BIPOC community. That’s a commitment I’m proud to make.
The Second City’s leadership will continue to engage in open forums of discussion and take action on the many great suggestions that have already been made. I have always believed that art speaks for itself. I have frustrated the staff with the insistence that The Second City doesn’t engage in media tit-for-tat. If you want to know what the institution of The Second City stands for, come see a show. No matter what happens from here, that will be the truth. I am sorry for my many failures as the steward of an important cultural institution. Black stories and black artists matter. Black lives do matter.