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Second City 40th Anniversary Celebration

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When the Second City cabaret theater was opened by Paul Sills, Bernie Sahlins, and Howard Alk on December 16, 1959, its name was its founders' way of thumbing their noses at Chicago's image as a cultural also-ran. That image was soon laid to rest thanks in large part to Second City's international influence, with its innovative comedy revues developed through improvisation by the performers.

The legion of celebrities who got their start at Second City is legendary; but just as important is the troupe's role in encouraging and defining what came to be known as off-Loop theater--a movement committed to ensemble-oriented, neighborhood-based, low-cost work that was youthful, unpretentious, and yet often smarter and hipper than the supposedly sophisticated product emanating from New York and LA. Despite an expansion program that included the establishment of sister companies in other cities and forays into television and, more recently, onto the World Wide Web, Second City remains uniquely and vitally a Chicago institution.

From December 16 through 19 Second City marks its 40th anniversary with a long weekend of performances and auxiliary events, including the openings of two new revues, a festival of archival films and videos of performances dating back to the early 60s, and reunion shows and panel discussions featuring notable Second City alums. Following is a complete anniversary celebration schedule; a few performances are already sold-out, but tickets are still available in most cases. Several events are benefits for Gilda's Club Chicago, a cancer support center named in honor of Second City alum Gilda Radner. All activities (unless noted below) take place at the Second City main stage, 1616 N. Wells, or at the theater's two smaller spaces next door in Piper's Alley, 1608 N. Wells: the Second City E.T.C. and the fourth-floor Donny's Skybox Studio. For information and reservations, call 312-337-3992 unless otherwise specified in the following listings.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16

Second City 4.0

The company's 85th main-stage revue is directed by Mick Napier; this is the first of two opening nights. Second City main stage, 7 PM. $15.

History Repaints Itself

The 21st comedy revue on Second City's second stage is directed by Jeff Richmond. This is its final preview. Second City E.T.C., 7 PM; call 312-642-8189. $15.

Second to None

Channel 11/WTTW broadcasts the premiere of HMS Media's hour-long documentary on Second City. Hosted by onetime Second City cast member Jim Belushi, the video follows the creation of one of the company's shows, Paradigm Lost, from the first rehearsal to opening night. Channel 11/WTTW, 8 PM.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17

Second City 4.0

See Thursday listing. This is the second of the show's two opening nights. Second City main stage, 7 PM. $15.

History Repaints Itself

See Thursday listing. This is the first of two opening nights. Second City E.T.C., 7 PM; call 312-642-8189. $15.

The Return of the Hip Messiah

The Prop Theatre presents Charles Pike's play about the last months of hipster comic Lord Buckley, including his 1960 sojourn in Chicago, where he joined Second City members Del Close and Severn Darden in a stand-up act. (See regular theater listings for full description of this production.) Donny's Skybox Studio, 8 PM. $20.

Lois Kaz Reunion

See Critic's Choice. Second City main stage, 10 PM. $5.

Sunshine and Lollipops

Graduates of the Second City's advanced writing program penned this two-act sketch comedy revue. Donny's Skybox Studio, 10 PM. $10.

Second to None

Channel 11/WTTW rebroadcasts HMS Media's documentary (see Thursday listing for more information). Channel 11/WTTW, 11 PM.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18

Second City Film Festival

This daylong festival features four different 90-minute programs of films and TV shows reflecting the theater's four decades of activity. The festival begins at 10 AM with Live From the Second City--1961, a rarely screened film of a live performance at the theater's original location at 1842 N. Wells; directed by Paul Sills, the performance features Howard Alk, Alan Arkin, Severn Darden, Andrew Duncan, Barbara Harris, Mina Kolb, Paul Sand, and Eugene Troobnick. At noon, SCTV: Producer's Choice consists of two episodes from SCTV Network, the 1977-'84 television series (initially syndicated and then picked up for late-night broadcast by NBC) that emanated from Second City's sister company in Toronto. At 2 PM, The Best of Del Close & Other Archives offers monologues by one of Second City's most talented and controversial members, the late Del Close, in commemoration of Close's death in March of this year. The program also features rarely seen clips of other vintage routines; selections include David Steinberg's Bob Dylan parody as "The First Eskimo Folksinger," Paul Sand trying to learn "How to Win a Friend" from an instructional record, and Alan Arkin, Severn Darden, and Eugene Troobnick as geeky academics prepping for the day when "Football Comes to the University of Chicago." And at 4 PM, the festival concludes with a screening of the documentary Second to None (see listing for Thursday). Admission to each program is $5 (all proceeds benefit Gilda's Club Chicago).

Children's Improv Workshop and Teen Improv Workshop

Youngsters take part in an hour and a half of improvisational exercises and theater games offered by the Second City Training Center. Each workshop is limited to 20 participants. Donny's Skybox Studio theater and classroom, 10 AM. Free, but advance registration necessary; call 312-664-3959 to register.

When It Began

The first of three panel discussions featuring Second City alumni, this hour and a half of reminiscences is moderated by Second City artistic consultant (and Columbia College theater department chair) Sheldon Patinkin; scheduled participants include Alan Arkin, Robert Klein, Fred Willard, Avery Schreiber, Mina Kolb, Joyce Piven, and Bernie Sahlins. Second City main stage, 11 AM. $10 (proceeds benefit Gilda's Club Chicago).

Open Improv Workshop

Second City alum Todd Stashwick leads a session of improvisation and theater games for persons aged 19 and up. The workshop is limited to 20 participants. Donny's Skybox Studio, noon. Free, but advance registration necessary; call 312-664-3959 to register.

Writers

This panel discussion brings together Second City alumni who have gone on to careers writing for TV, film, and the theater. Second City 4.0 cast member Kevin Dorff moderates the conversation; scheduled panelists include Adam McKay, Tom Gianas, Tina Fey, Tim Kazurinsky, Harold Ramis, Jenna Jolovitz, and Peter Murietta. Second City main stage, 1 PM. $10 (proceeds benefit Gilda's Club Chicago).

Open Improv Workshop

This program of theater and improv exercises is led by Second City alum Theresa Mulligan. The workshop is limited to 20 participants. Donny's Skybox Studio, 2 PM. Free, but advance registration necessary; call 312-664-3959 to register.

Directors

The last of the day's three panel discussions is moderated by Jeffrey Sweet, whose book Something Wonderful Right Away is the definitive oral history of the early years of Second City and its predecessor, the Compass Players. Scheduled participants include Harold Ramis, Betty Thomas, Tom Gianas, and the directors of Second City's current revues, Mick Napier and Jeff Richmond. Second City main stage, 3 PM. $10 (proceeds benefit Gilda's Club Chicago).

Master Improv Class

Martin de Maat, director of the Second City Training Center, leads a master class in improvisation for experienced professional actors and performers. Donny's Skybox Studio, 4 PM. Free, but advance registration necessary; call 312-664-3959 to register.

History Repaints Itself

See Thursday listing. This is the second of the show's two opening nights. Second City E.T.C., 7 PM; call 312-642-8189. $15.

Second City 4.0

See listing for Thursday. Second City main stage, 7 PM. $15.

The Return of the Hip Messiah

See listing for Friday. Donny's Skybox Studio, 8 PM. $20.

An Evening of Improvisation With Second City Past and Present

The casts of Second City 4.0 and History Repaints Itself are joined by Second City alumni for a late-night session of improvisation and theater games; the program will be broadcast on the World Wide Web (visit www.secondcity.com for more information). Second City main stage, 10 PM. $10 (proceeds benefit Gilda's Club Chicago).

Midnight Bible School: An Evening of Sit-Down Comedy

A rotating company of performers appears in this late-night program of "experimental stand-up comedy" organized by Matt Dwyer. Donny's Skybox Studio, 10 PM. $8.

Improv Jelly

Second City students perform an evening of improv. Donny's Skybox Studio, midnight. $3.

Second to None

Channel 11/WTTW rebroadcasts HMS Media's documentary (see Thursday listing for more information). Channel 11/WTTW, 2 AM.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 19

Second City 4.0

See Thursday listing. Second City main stage, 8 PM. $15; the show is followed by a free improv set.

History Repaints Itself

See Thursday listing. Second City E.T.C., 8 PM. $15; the show is followed by a free improv set.

Second to None

Channel 11/WTTW rebroadcasts HMS Media's documentary (see Thursday listing for more information). Channel 11/WTTW, 1 AM.

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