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Feb. 8th Feb. 10th Opening Night Week Later Epilogue

Second City Mainstage

I thought it might be of interest to post a little journal
about the process of putting a Second City Mainstage show
together from the director's (me) point of view.
It might also be a healthy vent to reflect and record this journey.

Some Background

Where Second City is at (from my point of view)

The Second City has gone through quite a bit of changes in the past couple of years. With the advent of Pinata Full of Bees, the mainstage saw a different kind of show. Whereas traditionally, S.C. (I don't feel like typing Second City a million times) presented its shows in revue format, consisting of scenes, songs, monologues, black outs, extended black outs (ebo's), and runners (a recurring joke that usually payed off in the third beat. Pinata was a bit different than that. It was raucous, loud, fast-paced, and funny. It cut out and from inside of scenes, and brought characters and themes back and back again in surprising ways. Pinata was a punch in the face/breath of fresh air/hell-raising/renaissance for what S.C. puts on their stages. When I first saw Pinata, I thought to myself, "If I were ever to direct a show here, this is the show I would direct." Well, I soon found out that I was directing a show there, and it was the show to follow Pinata Full of Bees........oy. A blessing and a curse. While Pinata was an open invitation to do pretty much whatever we wanted (Ruby,Craig,the cast,myself), it was also something to live up to and a tough act to follow. Having experienced "second time blues" enough in my life already I had become a staunch believer in it. I was nervous directing the mainstage show in the first place, let alone all this added bullshit. So on we went to create what would become Citizen Gates. It took four months and the cast and I felt it. While it was a wonderful process, it was also gruelling. I knew the show had to fashion an entirely different look and energy. The last thing I wanted was to create a Pinata Full of Bees-like show. It ended up being very different. The black walls were white, the dark curtain turned red, and the scenes glided smoothly through beats and transitions. When it finally opened I was very proud we had pulled it off, and more or less happy with the outcome. It achieved critical success, and was nominated for 5 Jeff awards, one of them directing. :) In retrospect and through it all, I am most happy that it was the first mainstage show to present an equal number of men and women (3 and 3), and that it declared and upheld the new tradition of doing away with most tradition.

How a Second City show is put together

I always forget that people don't know this.....not even within the improv community of Chicago often times. First of all, most shows on the planet have an opening night, a run, and a closing night. S.C. has an opening night and a run. Their shows never close......they cross fade. What I mean by that is this. Each currently running show is made up of various scenes, black outs, etc. When a new show is being created, scenes from the current show are replaced with new scenes that have a shot at being in the next show. Over time, all of the scenes of a given show are replaced by new scenes until every remnant of an old show is gone and it is comprised of entirely new scenes. Then the show opens. You may ask, "Isn't it risky to premeir a new scene in a current show for fear it might fall on its ass, mick?" That's where the improv sets come in. An improv set is where all the actors in the revue you just enjoyed (hopefully) will do a third act of improvisation. They take suggestions from the audiences and improvise right before their eyes. That is actually what happens when a show isn't being created. When a show is being created the improv sets are partially improvised, and partially "set" in varying degrees. In short, the S.C. improv set is a chance to try out a scene a few times before it leaps in the show. A wonderful system........and I mean that. It used to be that Second City would try to sneak these scenes in the set and pass them off as improvised by incorporating an audience suggestion into the scene. We no longer do that....we announce to the audience exactly what the hell is going on. I'm glad....less energy.

Me as a director

As a director, I can divide my deal into three parts.
Part One: Let everyone in the cast do whatever the hell they want.
For the mainstage show, this usually takes about a month.
Part Two: Still allow freedom, be more selective.
This is when I start to pay attention to variety. In a S.C. revue, one doesn't want a show comprised of ten sad, 2-person scenes about relationships that all take place in a suburbian living room in the year 1996 featuring Jenna Jolovitz and Scot Adsit and performed in two chairs stage center. Variety of styles, cast balance, eras, issues, numbers, etc. is what I begin to pay attention to. This hopefully takes a month, also.
Part Three: Getting ready to open.
This is the part where I admit parts one and two are bullshit and that everything really happens here. This part goes by very quickly and takes forever.

Here we go....

We begin...