Dec. 16, 1999 marks the 40th Anniversary for Chicago's famed comedy/improv theatre troupe, Second City. True to form, the company isn't letting the milestone go by without scads of improvisatory hoopla.
"Second City has a whole weekend of activities planned," producer Kelly Leonard told Playbill On-Line, "a kind of `comedy open house.' Tomorrow [Dec. 16] we open our new mainstage show, Second City 4.0, plus there'll be a private anniversary party for the alumni. On Friday, our second stage, Second City E.T.C., will open its new show, History Repaints Itself. Later on Friday, we'll have a reunion of the Lois Kaz Improv Troupe, which did long form pieces and has spawned a number of people in the industry, including Rachel Dratch (now on `Saturday Night Live'), Adam McKay (former head writer of SNL), and two Conan writers: Brian Stack and John Glaser, who are all attending."
Continued Leonard, "The big day is Dec. 18, when we hold three panel discussions with various Second City alumni: At the first, Alan Arkin, Robert Klein, Avery Schreiber and Fred Willard talk about the early years. Panel two focuses on writers, with Tim Kazurinski, Harold Ramis and Tina Fey [current SNL headwriter]. Panel three has directors, including Ramis and Betty Thomas alongside current Second City directors Mick Napier and Jeff Richmond."
Friday will also bring an all-day film festival at Second City ETC, with rare, archival footage shown, including a complete Second City show from 1961 featuring Arkin, Barbara Harris and Paul Sand. There'll also be an SCTV screening, introduced by Joe Flaherty, plus a recent documentary about the building of a Second City show.
Also on Saturday, free workshops will be offered in SC's training center theatre. (Slots are already filled up.) A special 10PM Saturday show will feature improv with current Second City casts and alumni and will be broadcast on the company's website, http://www.secondcity.com. "It'll be games and fun and goofing off," promised Leonard, who added that ticket prices have been kept "really low" for the anniversary events, with all proceeds going to Gilda's Club to fight cancer. "We didn't necessarily want a celebration that was celebrity driven," said Leonard, "though we are getting quite a few, including Dan Aykroyd, who said he'd come down. We also expect a lot of drinking -- a fine Second City tradition."
On a more staid note, a brunch will be held on Sunday, Dec. 19, to honor Bernie Sahlins, co-founder of the theatre; Joyce Sloane, former associate producer and "the den mother of Chicago theatre"; and Sheldon Patinkin, SC's artistic consultant.
Established in 1959 as a 150-seat cabaret in a converted Chinese laundry, the company has blossomed into its current three Equity theatres (in Chicago, Toronto, and Detroit) with a new Second City to open in Cleveland. Second City also boasts five touring companies and a training program which educates some 3,000 students.
In 1973, The Second City opened its second home in Toronto, led by such early alumni as Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. The Toronto Second City led to the development of the skit-comedy series, "SCTV," and such memorable characters as Bob and Doug MacKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), and Martin Short's Ed Grimley.
Among the actors, writers and directors who began their careers at Second City and its predecessor, The Compass Players, are Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Shelley Berman, John Candy, Chris Farley, Mary Gross, Valerie Harper, Bonnie Hunt, Henry Jaglom, Robert Klein, Linda Lavin, Eugene Levy, Shelley Long, Andrea Martin, Paul Mazursky, Elaine May, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Mike Nichols, Harold Ramis, Joan Rivers, Paul Sand, Martin Short, Paul Sills, Ryan Stiles, Betty Thomas, George Wendt, Gilda Radner, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.
The 40th Anniversary celebration officially began March 6 in Aspen, when the cast of SCTV -- Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Harold Ramis, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy -- reunited.
-- By David Lefkowitz & Sean McGrath