Second City 40th Anniversary Celebration | Festival | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Festival

Second City 40th Anniversary Celebration

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

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 bicoastal 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 Internet, 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 seldom-seen videos of performances dating back to the early 60s, and reunion shows and panel discussions featuring notable alumni of Second City and its predecessors, the Playwrights Theater Club and the Compass Players. Following is a complete anniversary celebration schedule; some 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 revue on Second City's second stage is directed by Jeff Richmond. This is its final preview. Second City E.T.C., 7 PM. $15; call 312-642-8189.

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 recent 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 the production's two opening nights. Second City E.T.C., 7 PM. $15; call 312-642-8189.

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

Named after a longtime Second City staffer, the improv group Lois Kaz was formed in 1994 to do pure improvisation onstage--an alternative to the scripted, tightly structured sketch revues that were then Second City's time-tested but shopworn stock in trade. The sharp and talented ensemble didn't stay together long, as its members moved on to Second City's main stage and touring companies and to TV gigs. But their short time together produced a sea change, paving the way for more subversive and structurally experimental Second City shows such as PiƱata Full of Bees and Paradigm Lost. This one-night reunion show "will offer a rare chance to see the improv dream team in action again," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. 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

Live From the Second City--1961

See Critic's Choice. Second City E.T.C., 10 AM. $5 (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 veterans and observers of Second City's early days, 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).

SCTV: Producer's Choice

The "Second City Film Festival" continues with condensed versions of two episodes from SCTV Network, the fast, funny, famously free-form television comedy series. Initially syndicated and then picked up for late-night broadcast by NBC, it emanated in the late 70s and early 80s from Second City's sister company in Toronto under the guidance of Andrew Alexander, now executive producer of the entire Second City operation. This screening includes "The Russian Show," a quintessential parody of cold war paranoia in which the SCTV Network's satellite feed is mysteriously interrupted by Russia's "CCCP1" channel, prompting a hilarious nuclear-holocaust fantasy that borrows from the movies Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cruising, and The Jazz Singer as well as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The talented ensemble of writer-performers--Rick Moranis, John Candy, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, and Eugene Levy, joined by guest star Al Jarreau--portray such familiar SCTV characters as Edith Prickley, Guy Caballero, Lola Heatherton, and, of course, beer-guzzling brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie; they also deliver delicious impersonations of Mother Teresa, Phil Silvers, Linda McCartney, Perry Como, Lynn Redgrave, Benny Hill, and Tammy Faye Bakker. "The Russian Show" will be paired with a second episode to be announced. Second City E.T.C., noon. $5 (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).

The Best of Del Close & Other Archives

To honor one of its most talented and controversial members, Del Close, who died last March, Second City producer Kelly Leonard has assembled a series of video monologues that the actor-director-improv guru taped in 1990 as part of My Talk Show, a syndicated spoof of cable-access TV shows. Appearing as "Ozzie Mandius," Close spews curmudgeonly commentary on topics ranging from women's liberation to NEA-funded "dirty pictures" (which he staunchly defends precisely because they are dirty). Interspersed with Close's segments are rarely seen live and studio clips of performances by several generations of Second Citizens. Part of the day's "Second City Film Festival," these include what might be termed "alternate takes" of sketches also captured in Live From the Second City--1961 (see Critic's Choice), including Alan Arkin and Barbara Harris's signature sketch "Museum Piece," Paul Sand in "How to Win a Friend," and Arkin, Severn Darden, and Eugene Troobnick in "Football Comes to the University of Chicago." Comparing these performances to their counterparts in Live From the Second City--1961 allows one to savor the combination of technical precision and improvisational spontaneity that is Second City's specialty. Also on the bill: from the mid-1960s, David Steinberg's Bob Dylan parody as "The First Eskimo Folksinger" and the husband-and-wife team of Dick Schaal and Valerie Harper as a pair of horny, guilt-ridden Catholic teenagers courting in a chapel; from 1980, a classic hospital sketch featuring Bill Murray, George Wendt, and Tim Kazurinsky. Second City E.T.C., 2 PM. $5 (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 Second City's early years. 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).

Second to None

See Thursday listing. This screening of HMS Media's documentary concludes the "Second City Film Festival." Second City E.T.C., 4 PM. $5 (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. $15; call 312-642-8189.

Second City 4.0

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

The Return of the Hip Messiah

See Friday listing. 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 Internet (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; call 312-642-8189. The performance 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.

Add a comment