WBEZ | improv http://www.wbez.org/tags/improv Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Second City Chicago pushes for diverse voices on stage http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/second-city-chicago-pushes-diverse-voices-stage-110094 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bob%20Curry%20Fellows.JPG" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="For the first time in the history of the Second City, a special fellowship was created this year named after Bob Curry, the first African American to perform on The Second City’s mainstage in 1966. (WBEZ/Mariam Sobh)" /></p><p>Another late night talk show host is leaving CBS.</p><p>Craig Ferguson of <em>The Late Late Show</em> is expected to sign off at the end of the year.</p><p>This news comes just after the network announced Stephen Colbert will replace the retiring David Letterman.</p><p>The announcement raised questions again about why all the networks&#39; late night comics are white males.</p><p>Part of the answer takes us to Chicago, where many of the comedy stars of the last few decades learned their trade &ndash; including Stephen Colbert who studied improv at The Second City.</p><p>While some inroads have been made, comedy is still seen as a predominantly white male art form. Particularly when it comes to the art of improvisation and sketch comedy.</p><p>Improvisation was founded in 1955 at the University of Chicago and since then it has been slow to transition to an art form that is available to the masses.</p><p>While efforts have been made to be more inclusive of women, the LGBT community, and actors of color, there is still a lot of work to do.</p><p>Full disclosure, I&rsquo;m the first Muslim woman wearing the headscarf to graduate and perform at the Second City Training Center&rsquo;s conservatory.</p><p>Diversity is an issue that big improv institutions are keenly aware of.</p><p>Andrew Alexander, CEO, of the Second City has been grappling with this for the last 20 years.</p><p>He said he noticed the problem back in 1992.</p><p>&ldquo;I was in Los Angeles during the L.A. riots and I happened to fly back one of those evenings and I came to Chicago and I went straight to the theater,&quot; Alexander said. &quot;And our actors were 6 or 7 white actors who were struggling to figure out how to sort of deal with the riots in L.A. and it became quite apparent to me that the point of view just wasn&rsquo;t strong. And from that moment on I made a decision to really embrace how can we improve our diversity.&rdquo;</p><p>But, more than two decades later, there is only one person of color on the main stage at Second City.<br /><br />Why is that?</p><p>Anne Libera, director of Comedy Studies at Columbia College and an instructor at the Second City Training Center said it&rsquo;s difficult to cultivate diversity in general.</p><p>&ldquo;You both need people who want to do it, but for people to want to do it, you need them to see representation above them,&rdquo; Libera said.</p><p>For the first time in the history of the Second City, a special fellowship was created this year named after Bob Curry, the first African American to perform on The Second City&rsquo;s mainstage in 1966.</p><p>The fellowship is an intense training program that has accepted only 16 minority students who already have some experience on stage.</p><p>The goal is to mold them into exactly what the Second City is looking for.</p><p>Matt Hovde, the artistic director at the Second City Training Center, said he&rsquo;s confident this program will open the door for more voices.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the first time in a long time that I feel like it will directly translate into a bigger pool of diverse talent at Second City that are working and can work,&quot; Hovde said. &quot;So to me it&rsquo;s a great leap forward.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/147285183&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>One of the Bob Curry Fellows, Patrick Rowland, is also a member of 3Peat, an all black improv team that plays weekly at iO, another comedy institution.</p><p>Rowland said when he took classes back in 2006 he was always the odd man out.</p><p>&ldquo;Every class I was in I was the only black person or person of color,&quot; Rowland said. &quot;There was a tall lanky white guy, a chubby white guy, a white girl who thought she was Tina Fey and then there was me.&rdquo;</p><p>Rowland said that since then, he has seen some changes.</p><p>&ldquo;Nowadays...it&rsquo;s not a lot but to me it&rsquo;s like an explosion of black people,&quot; Rowland said. &quot;And by explosion I mean that you you can count them on two hands.&rdquo;</p><p>3 Peat member John Thibodeaux said he&#39;s slowly seeing a paradigm shift.</p><p>&ldquo;The dominant voices you see in the media, if you&rsquo;re like a black actor in movies or television, you&rsquo;re gonna be the guy who&rsquo;s always the black guy and not just the guy. You don&rsquo;t see a lot of black protagonists in movies. And that&rsquo;s something that can be really inspiring to people coming up. Because I know I don&rsquo;t personally see a lot of people who look like me in the media, telling a story similar to mine. And that&rsquo;s why I like especially playing with this group because when you walk into a scene you know you&rsquo;re not going to be just a black guy. You&rsquo;re just going to be another improviser on stage which is refreshing.&rdquo;</p><p>Thibodeaux and the other members of 3Peat agree that in order for more minorities to get involved, they have to pave the way.</p><p>Which is something I&rsquo;m also now aware of.</p><p>I wrote a blackout sketch for my conservatory graduation show at the Second City Training Center that satirized being a Muslim woman and a person&rsquo;s fear that I was going to blow them up.</p><p>I was playing off a stereotype and people laughed.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s not always funny.</p><p>I was once in a class where the instructor thought it would be amazing if I came out on stage with an American flag and Indian music playing in the background.</p><p>I was confused, because I&rsquo;m not Indian.</p><p>Stereotypes are often another challenge for diverse performers.</p><p>3Peat member Nnamdi Ngwe is all too familiar with this and said he experienced it during an improv class.</p><p>&ldquo;I was actually told, in one of my classes, can you blacken it up,&quot; Ngwe said. &quot;He didn&rsquo;t use exactly those words, but he did want me to essentially blacken it up. I was like no thank you. I wanna do me.&rdquo;</p><p>The process of diversification is complex. But there have been some gains.</p><p>The Second City&rsquo;s smaller stage is now made up of half white and half minority actors.</p><p>But true diversity on the bigger stages promises to be a long term project made more difficult by the fact that it&rsquo;s so competitive.</p><p>The Second City for example may have only one or&nbsp;two positions open in any given year.</p><p><em>Mariam Sobh is Midday Host and reporter at WBEZ. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/mariamsobh">@mariamsobh</a></em></p></p> Tue, 29 Apr 2014 11:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/second-city-chicago-pushes-diverse-voices-stage-110094 The Kate Lambert Interview http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-04/kate-lambert-interview-106836 <p><div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/KateLambertHeadshot.JPG" style="float: right; height: 453px; width: 300px;" title="Chicago comedian Kate Lambert. (Photo courtesy of Brian McConkey)" />Let&#39;s talk about what it&#39;s like to make a living as a comic performer in Chicago. Kate Lamber is an actress, improviser and writer. She is a cast member of The Second City Touring Company and has performed as an understudy on The Second City&#39;s e.t.c. Stage and at UP Comedy Club.</p><p>Kate has also toured with The Second City aboard Norwegian Cruise Line. She wrote and acted in viral shorts such as <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC-jafOj_Y4" target="_blank">&quot;Adults &amp; Tiaras&quot;</a>, <a href="http://vimeo.com/39320247" target="_blank">&quot;How to Live Like Beyonce&quot;</a>, and &quot;<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3smaIc7UHEg" target="_blank">How to Sponsor a Uterus</a>&quot; that have been featured places like The Huffington Post, MTV and Cosmopolitan.</p><p>In addition, she is an actor, writer, and executive producer for the web series,<em> Teachers</em>. Kate is a member of the sketch group Cell Camp and performs at iO with the improv groups like Virgin Daiquiri (which featured <em>SNL</em>&#39;s Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong) and guest improvises with Whirled News Tonight and The Deltones.</p><p><strong>What do you get from each of the&nbsp;</strong><strong>sketch and improv groups</strong><strong>&nbsp;you&rsquo;re in?</strong></p><p>Currently, I am performing with The Second City Touring Company, <a href="http://ioimprov.com/chicago/io/shows/the-armando-diaz-experience" target="_blank">The Armando Diaz Experience,</a> <a href="http://ioimprov.com/chicago/io/teams/virgin-daiquiri" target="_blank">Virgin Daiquiri</a>, and <a href="http://www.thekatydids.com/index.html" target="_blank">The Katydids</a>.</p><p>Working for The Second City has been a dream of mine since I first started improvising. The Touring Company lets me improvise, act, write, and travel, which are four of my favorite things to do. It is an honor to have this job and perform for people all across the country. In addition to creating our own material, we also perform some of the best scenes from Second City&rsquo;s fifty-plus year history. It&rsquo;s pretty incredible to be in scenes that people like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert originally wrote and acted in.</p><p>Armando Diaz and Virgin Daiquiri are the two improv groups that I watched most when coming up in classes at iO. The players in these shows were some of the performers I admired most. When I was asked to join both groups, it was a &ldquo;pinch me&rdquo; moment. To play with these improvisers is a real privilege as they are at the top of the game, and being onstage with them only makes you better.&nbsp;</p><p>With The Katydids, we started as an improv group and then we expanded to doing sketch and online shorts. This is a group (made up of women with all varying forms of the name Kate) who are friends and co-workers.&nbsp; It is an independent group, so we began focusing on creating material. We have really had to pound the pavement to get our work out there and to have it pay off has been really rewarding. Most recently, we wrote, produced, and acted in a web series called &quot;<em><a href="http://www.teacherswebseries.com/" target="_blank">Teachers</a></em>&quot; (with Matt Miller and Cap Gun Collective) that was really successful and with which we are hoping to do more.</p><p><strong>When you&rsquo;re writing, are there any comedy topics you tend to avoid either because you find them too sensitive, overdone or just not that funny?</strong><br />I don&rsquo;t have a hard and fast rule about what topics I can write about and what I can&rsquo;t. Last year, I wrote about women&rsquo;s rights and gay marriage in two shorts. Both are pretty sensitive subjects where emotions run high on both sides. In the shorts <em>How to Sponsor a Uterus</em> and <em>Get Cash 4 Rights</em>, I wanted to weigh in on these subjects, so I did it by satirizing the opposition. I think that in order to write in a comedic way about any sensitive subject, you have to first understand why it&rsquo;s not funny before you put your spin on it.</p><p><strong>Who is Michael Billington and why is he worthy of mention <a href="http://www.katelambert.com/About" target="_blank">in your bio</a>?</strong><br />Michael Billington is the longest serving theatre critic in Britain and the theatre critic for The Guardian. He was also Harold Pinter&rsquo;s authorized biographer. When I was in college, I was lucky enough to study abroad in London and take a class from him. As a class, we attended multiple shows&mdash;several of them written by Pinter, and one that was written and directed by Pinter. It was an incredible experience to see these shows, but also discuss them with someone like Mr. Billington afterwards. We were able to critically analyze the performances and think about them in a way we hadn&rsquo;t before. We were also able to tell him that one of the actors we saw did a terrible American accent.</p><p><strong>As a Second City cruise employee, what secrets can you tell us from behind the scenes of cruise ships?</strong><br />When you&rsquo;re performing on a moving vessel, you have to deal with factors you would never encounter on land. I remember the water could be a little rocky as we were leaving Belize, and that was during our sketch show. Performing in heels is tough enough as is, but when the ship is moving every which way, even sitting in a chair requires concentration so you won&rsquo;t slide off.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>With the ship, you are essentially living and working on a floating city for four months. It gives you a lot of time to work on material or just stare at the ocean which, surprisingly, doesn&rsquo;t get old. You also learn terms like <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vessel_emergency_codes" target="_blank">&ldquo;Code Oscar&rdquo;</a> that come in handy for any future improv scenes that takes place on a boat and make you sound legit.</p><p><strong>What have been some of your favorite parts of the cruises?</strong><br />I was so excited to go on the cruise because it was my first job with Second City and because I got to travel which was something I wanted to do since I graduated from college. To make it even better, the people in the cast were incredible and seasoned performers so I learned a lot from them. We were able to go to so many amazing places together. Some of which I knew I would never have the chance to visit again, so I made the most of it.&nbsp; I got to swim with dolphins in Mexico, zip line through the rainforest in Belize and Costa Rica, swim in a mud volcano in Colombia, and go dog sledding in Alaska. It was pretty surreal to experience all of those things within four months.</p><p><strong>What are you happiest to come home to after a cruise?</strong><br />I was happiest to come home to my family and friends. And it was nice to be in a house that always stayed in one place.</p><p><strong>What have been some of your favorite voiceover gigs?</strong><br />Voiceover is something that is relatively new for me. I did a radio spot last year that was a lot of fun, but I have also had a great time auditioning for things. I recently auditioned for an animated film and it was so cool to see the part I was reading for and check out the script.</p><p><strong>How is writing for web series different from writing for the stage?</strong><br />Writing for shorts and web series is different from writing on the stage because there are things that you can show onstage that you can&rsquo;t on film and vice versa. The great thing about online shorts is that you can go to town with costumes and makeup when you wouldn&rsquo;t have time for something like that in a sketch show. For one short we did, I had to use latex, scar wax, and layers upon layers of foundation to cover up my eyebrows. It took forever to do, but the end result was ridiculous and looked real. Sketch shows are so fast paced that you don&rsquo;t have that kind of time.</p><p><strong>What&rsquo;s harder: being a girl in comedy or being in comedy and living in Chicago?</strong><br />I hear more about how difficult it is being a woman in comedy than I think about it myself. It&rsquo;s a question that is posed to a lot of female comedians since there have been several high profile people in the news this past year claiming that women aren&rsquo;t funny. That concept is ludicrous to me because having a particular body part isn&rsquo;t what makes you funny; it&rsquo;s about being smart and observant and that&rsquo;s not relegated to either sex. If someone believes that women aren&rsquo;t funny, then their opinion is already insignificant to me because I can&rsquo;t respect anyone who thinks that way. Personally, I&rsquo;m glad to be a woman in comedy, and right now is a really exciting time to be doing this. Women&nbsp;like&nbsp;Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham have made an incredible impact not only as actors, but writers and producers and I think that trend is going to continue.&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&nbsp;was the absolute right place for me to come to pursue comedy&mdash;even if I didn&rsquo;t have that intention when I first moved here. While it is very competitive, it is also a nurturing community. You can always find a place to perform, and on any given night onstage, I know I can look out into the crowd and see other performers in the audience watching and supporting.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>What is the best skill to have with musical improv?</strong>&nbsp;<br />The best skill to have is to not worry about looking like an idiot. Musical improv flexes a completely different muscle than improv. It is easy to get into your head about the rhythm of the music, singing on key, or whether or not you will be able to rhyme. But if you get out there and just have the most fun you can possibly have with it, it&rsquo;s impossible for the audience not to enjoy it too.</p><p><strong>Tell me about your<em> Check Please</em> appearance. </strong><strong>Where did you go and what&rsquo;s the best thing you ate?</strong><br />My <em>Check Please</em> episode aired earlier this year.&nbsp; It was a lot of fun to do because I had to visit two other restaurants to which I had never gone, so it was great to get out and try some new things. &nbsp;If you see it, you can look forward to watching me try not to be awkward.</p><p>I went to three restaurants&mdash;<a href="http://taximchicago.com/" target="_blank">Taxim</a>, <a href="http://czechplaza.com/" target="_blank">Czech Plaza</a>, and my pick&mdash;Marion Street Grille in Oak Park. I am not someone who typically orders fish, but I had the fish and chips at Marion Street Grille and they were fabulous. &nbsp;he fish was tempura fried, light and fluffy.&nbsp; It was great.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>What are you hoping to achieve in the near and in the distant future?</strong><br />I would love to continue working for The Second City. Ultimately, I want to work in TV and film. I would love to write and act for movies or a TV series. My first love was always performing, but working in Chicago has made me love being involved in all aspects of the process. It is awesome to have a hand in creating what you are performing.</p><p><strong>How does it feel to be the 346th person interviewed for Zulkey.com? </strong><br />Pretty good.&nbsp; I just hope I get a jacket.</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 26 Apr 2013 08:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-04/kate-lambert-interview-106836 The Q Brothers do Dickens http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-12/dont-miss-list-december-13-19-inside-pritzker-pavilion-and-round <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS6807_345.unb_.th_.qbrothers.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="338" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/erQ8zJpuWVo" width="601"></iframe></p><div class="image-insert-image "><u><em>A Christmas Carol</em>, a work in progress by the Q Brothers; inside the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, tomorrow (Friday the 14th) through Sunday (the 16th); Friday and Saturday at 7, Sunday at 2; FREE!</u><p>The Q Brothers are a pair of actual brothers from the North Side who&#39;ve carved out an unlikely niche: They turn Shakespeare plays into hip-hop musicals, thereby managing to horrify both Shakespeare aficianadoes and hip-hop fans. And yet &mdash; speaking from the Shakespeare side, at least &mdash; it absolutely works. The Brothers&#39; verbal and physical inventiveness, coupled with complete understanding of the plays, made <em>The Bomb-itty of Errors</em> and <em>Funk It Up About Nuthin&#39; </em>not just fun but faithful to the originals in every way that matters.</p><p>Now they take on another classic that could use a good shaking-up: Charles Dickens&#39; nearly exhausted <em>A Christmas Carol</em>. While it&#39;s still a work in progress, the Brothers are spicing up this year&#39;s holidays by sharing their reinvention of the work we think we all know. The audience will sit safe and warm in the choir lofts of the Pritzker Pavilion stage and see what new changes can be rung on the familiar story. Believer me, if there are any changes left, the Qs will find them!&nbsp;Tickets are free, but RSVPs are strongly recommended. To RSVP, please contact <a href="mailto:qbrotherschristmas@gmail.com" target="_blank">qbrotherschristmas@gmail.com</a>.&nbsp;And when that&#39;s over . . .</p><div class="image-insert-image "><p><u><em>The Second City That Never Sleeps</em>, a benefit for Onward Neighborhood House, Tuesday (the 18th) at 6 pm at <a href="http://secondcity.com/">The Second City</a> e.t.c. Theatre, 1608 North Wells, 2nd floor; 312-337-3992; tickets $20 at the door throughout the 24-hour event.</u></p><p>The Second City may be a for-profit company (unlike most Chicago theaters) but its heart is apparently in the nonprofit world. For 24 hours beginning Tuesday evening, Second City company members, alumni and friends will present improv, music, stand-up comedy and even an interview with political stats maven (and University of Chicago graduate) Nate Silver. Proceeds will benefit Onward Neighborhood House, a broad-spectrum social service agency (or what Jane Addams would have called a settlement house). If you can&#39;t imagine rising and shining to see Fred Armisen perform at 1:30 in the morning, there are plenty of offerings at reasonable hours, including Jeff Tweedy at 9 p.m. Tuesday, the aforementioned Nate Silver at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and others too numerous to mention: find details on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/search/results.php?q=The%20Second%20City%20That%20Never%20Sleeps&amp;init=quick&amp;tas=0.56148045176595">Second City That Never Sleeps Facebook event page</a>.</p></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 13 Dec 2012 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-12/dont-miss-list-december-13-19-inside-pritzker-pavilion-and-round Renowned theater companies pair up for operatic laughs http://www.wbez.org/sections/art/renowned-theater-companies-pair-operatic-laughs-101019 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tragedina2.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 5px; height: 327px; width: 225px;" title="Princess Tragedina (WBEZ/Cassidy Herrington)" />Two Chicago theater companies are joining forces in an unlikely double act.<p>The Second City and Lyric Opera of Chicago announced Wednesday that cheeky comedy and classical singing will share the same stage in <em>The Second City Guide to Opera</em> this winter.</p><p>The Lyric&rsquo;s General Director Anthony Freud said the performance will not only appeal to opera fans, but also those who think &ldquo;an opera house was the last place in the world they would ever be entertained.&rdquo;</p><p>Second City spokesperson Alexandra Day said that each company will do what it does best, but with &ldquo;areas of what we hope will be hilarious overlap.&rdquo; &nbsp;The show will feature the celebrated soprano, Renee Fleming, and a comedy star to be announced at a later date.</p><p>Fleming is also the Lyric&rsquo;s creative consultant. She came up with the idea to unite Second City and the Lyric after hearing one of her recordings play during a Second City skit, Freud said. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;On behalf of everyone (at) The Second City I want to thank Renee for not suing us,&rdquo; Kelly Leonard, Second City&rsquo;s executive vice president said. &ldquo;We are obviously thrilled that our use of unaccredited sampling has become an opportunity rather than a cease-and-desist letter.&rdquo;</p><p>Leonard said the two companies make a surprising but natural partnership because of the experimental nature of Chicago&rsquo;s art scene.</p><p>&ldquo;The city has always thrived when it mixes high art and low art,&rdquo; Leonard said. &ldquo;We are at our best when we are not bound by categories.&rdquo;</p><p>Lyric Opera&rsquo;s General Director Anthony Freud says the collaboration is an effort to bring opera to audiences of different backgrounds.</p><p>&ldquo;You can ask, &lsquo;What possible relevance could it have to a very 21<sup>st</sup> century, very un-European city like Chicago?,&rsquo;&rdquo; Freud said. &ldquo;What I can say is that if you distill opera down to its basics, what is it? It&rsquo;s telling stories through words and music.&rdquo;</p><p>Freud said the collaboration is part of the company&rsquo;s recently announced effort to bring opera to a wider audience. Lyric Unlimited focuses on community partnerships, education and performances at the opera house and around the city.</p><p>&ldquo;Together I think we can try to explore how opera can find a way of becoming truly relevant to people and communities for whom it has had absolutely no relevance up to now,&rdquo; Freud said.</p><p>This year, the Lyric will unveil its first program specifically designed for families, he said. It&rsquo;s an interactive 70-minute version of the classic, <em>Don Pasquale</em>, called <em>Popcorn and Pasquale</em>. The theater is offering lower ticket prices for families and is also partnering with sponsors to provide free tickets to families in need. Lyric Unlimited is funded by a $2 million award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, announced earlier this month.</p><p>The Lyric&#39;s upcoming collaboration with The Second City is an example of these efforts to connect with new audiences and art forms.</p><p>To demonstrate the point, two Second City e.t.c. performers, Tawny Newsome and Michael Kosinski, acted out a musical sketch at the press conference Wednesday. The skit parodied the unlikely flirtation between opera and improv, featuring the operatic caricature,&ldquo;Princess Tragedina,&rdquo; and the improv actor, &ldquo;Gary.&rdquo; The troubled princess remarked how their relationship was hopeless because she requires &ldquo;elaborate sets&rdquo; &ndash; not typically found on an improv stage.</p><p>The fate of the Lyric and the improv relationship will unfold on the Civic Opera House&#39;s stage on Jan. 5.</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 18 Jul 2012 18:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/art/renowned-theater-companies-pair-operatic-laughs-101019 Improv pioneer Josephine Forsberg dies at 90 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-05/improv-pioneer-josephine-forsberg-dead-90-92827 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-05/Second City Student Show_Flickr_Elizabeth McQuern.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Very few of the men and women are left now who, sixty years ago, began to create in Chicago the modern techniques of improvisational theater. With the death Monday of Josephine "Jo" Raciti Forsberg, 90, the ranks of the surviving founders have grown even smaller.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-05/Second City Student Show_Flickr_Elizabeth McQuern.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 300px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Forsberg helped develop the modern techniques of improve theater, like those used by these Second City students in a 2008 performance. (Flickr/Elizabeth McQuern)">The creation of concepts and rules for improvisational comedy, acting and performance--each somewhat distinct from the other--didn't happen all at once. There was no improv big bang, but a series of events, theater troupes, experiments, workshops, cabarets and schools which sometimes flowed out of each other and sometimes not. Jo Forsberg was up to her neck in as many of them as anyone else, from The Second City co-founders Howard Alk (deceased), Paul Sills (deceased) and Bernard Sahlins (happily still among the living and still engaged in making theater), to Mike Nichols and Elaine May and Shelly Berman, to Del Close and David Shepherd and Sheldon Patinkin (also, happily, still fully engaged in Chicago theater).</p><p>Although I hadn't seen Jo Forsberg in many years, I remember her vividly and her gifted children, too, Linnea and Eric, who were major forces in the early Off-Loop Theater scene of the 1970's. Now with independent careers of their own in teaching (Linnea) and film (Eric), they were with her when she died Monday at Illinois Masonic Medical Center.</p><p>I'm grateful to theater critic and Columbia College teacher Albert Williams for reminding me of the details of her long career.</p><p>Jo was a member in the 1950's of the pioneering Playwrights Theatre Club, forerunner of the Second City improv theatre, and she was an early member of Second City itself where she assisted Viola Spolin, whose pioneering work in theater games was--and is--the foundation of all contemporary improv work. Spolin, mother of Paul Sills, eventually left Chicago for the West Coast, with Forsberg taking over Spolin's Chicago workshops. Forsberg also produced and directed the long-running Children's Theatre at the Second City from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, continuing to teach at Second City and later at the Players Workshop, forerunner of the Second City Training Center. Among Jo's thousands of students over the years, according to Williams' account, were George Wendt, Shelley Long, Harold Ramis, Bonnie Hunt, Robert Townsend and Bill Murray. Forsberg also was the aunt of the late Martin de Maat, who served for many years as artistic director of the Second City Training Center.</p><p>Linking the generation of the founders to those who followed, Forsberg invited Compass Players co-founder David Shepherd back to Chicago in the early 1980s and teamed him up with her student, improv producer Charna Halpern, paving the way for ImprovOlympic (today known as iO Chicago) which Halpern created with great improv guru and theorist Del Close. Also in the 1980s and '90s, she owned and operated an off-Loop venue, the Theatre Shoppe on Lincoln Avenue, which produced dozens of plays and nurtured the careers of many actors, including Steve Carell and Tim Kazurinsky.</p><p>We tend to think of improvisational theater as being comedic and satiric, in the mold of The Second City or The Committee (San Francisco) or the Upright Citizens Brigade (New York, but it started here). However, the greatest improv teachers and directors, and Jo Forsberg was among them, understand that improvisation is a key to the imagination which may be applied by any actor to any given role or situation. Once dismissed as having little value, improvisation now is part of the core curriculum of any comprehensive course of acting or directing studies. Master teacher Jo Forsberg is among those who should be thanked and remembered.</p></p> Wed, 05 Oct 2011 11:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-05/improv-pioneer-josephine-forsberg-dead-90-92827 Funny man Jimmy Carrane releases his inner ‘Improv Nerd’ http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-15/funny-man-jimmy-carrane-releases-his-inner-%E2%80%98improv-nerd%E2%80%99-92030 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-September/2011-09-15/Jimmy Carrane.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For 25 years, Chicago improv comedian <a href="http://www.jimmycarrane.com/" target="_blank">Jimmy Carrane</a> honed his skills in the wide world of comedy. And worked with some of the biggest names who got their start in--or rolled through--Chicago.</p><p>He played small rolls in television and film and for quite some time; and could be found in public radio-land on WBEZ’s <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>. Carrane interviewed celebrities as the host of his own “show-within-a-show,” <a href="http://www.wbez.org/content-categories/56935" target="_blank"><em>Studio 312</em></a>.</p><p>Carrane channeled his chops to teach comedy and recently combined all of his passions for stage and performance in a new stage show, <em>Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane</em>. The weekly show runs on Sundays through Nov. 27 at <a href="http://www.stage773.com/" target="_blank">Stage 773</a>, on West Belmont.</p></p> Thu, 15 Sep 2011 14:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-15/funny-man-jimmy-carrane-releases-his-inner-%E2%80%98improv-nerd%E2%80%99-92030 Improv for Alzheimer's: 'A sense of accomplishment' http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-14/improv-alzheimers-sense-accomplishment-90592 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-15/Alzheimer&#039;s_Flickr_Ann Gordon.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Many newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients go through the stressful phase of realizing they are losing their memory while still having enough insight to know that, over time, they will no longer be able to care for themselves.</p><p>So a team of researchers from Chicago — a city known for improvisational theater — is testing a new idea of whether unscripted theater games can affect the well-being of these patients.</p><p>"Improv is all about being in the moment, which for someone with memory loss, that is a very safe place," says Mary O'Hara, a social worker at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "Maybe thinking about the past and trying to remember makes the person a little anxious or even a bit sad because their memory is failing. And maybe thinking about the future too much is also anxiety-provoking. So being in the moment is such a safe and a good place to be."</p><p>The Northwestern researchers are working with the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company. There are already theater programs that use improv for Alzheimer's patients in the later stages of the disease, but this collaboration is unique because it's for early-stage patients.</p><p>"There's no experience required, there's no script, there's no memorization," O'Hara says. "They bring to it just their creative potential. And they are so successful at this."</p><p>Christine Mary Dunford, with Lookingglass, leads the group of novice performers in very simple improv games.</p><p>One "of the basic tenets of improv that [is] perfect for working with people with dementia [is] the concept of yes," Dunford says. "So, fundamental to all our work is that whatever answer someone comes up with, the rest of us are going to be able to work with it."</p><p>Researchers don't expect these games to stop or slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease, but they are investigating whether engaging the creative abilities of these early-stage patients improves their lives.</p><p>Before and after the eight-week program, participants and their families are asked a series of questions, checking to see how the course changes their answers.</p><p>"We're asking people to tell us how they're feeling about their physical health, their mood," says Darby Morhardt, a research associate professor at Northwestern. "How do they feel about their memory? How did they feel about their family, about their relationships? And also, how do they feel about their current situation as a whole and their life as a whole?"</p><p>"When we think of people with Alzheimer's and other dementia, we think about people who are losing skills on a daily basis," says improv coach Dunford. "But here, they're learning some new things, too.</p><p>It gives them a feeling of — a sense of self-confidence that they were able to accomplish this. And in this disease, there's not a lot of opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment."</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Sun, 14 Aug 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-14/improv-alzheimers-sense-accomplishment-90592 At Groupon, employees don't sell out, they sell in http://www.wbez.org/story/groupon-employees-dont-sell-out-they-sell-87240 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-May/2011-05-31/107211161.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For some Groupon employees, it’s nontraditional to have a traditional job.</p><p>According to Groupon’s <a href="http://www.grouponworks.com/why-groupon/demographics" title="http://www.grouponworks.com/why-groupon/demographics">self-reported numbers</a>, their subscribers are young, smart, single, female, wealthy and employed individuals. But their employees come from an even more specific niche: funny people.</p><p>In the past, writers and comedians have focused their career goals on one thing: Hollywood. But if that doesn’t work out, the most steady employment success is often found in advertising and copywriting – their skill-set manages to carry over to this type of traditional and structured setting. But Groupon appears to be not just another agency writing boring copy, and many believe they are changing the famous comedy landscape in Chicago.</p><p>“Traditionally, advertising agencies have said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to do that,’” said Anne Libera, Director of Comedy Studies at Second City. She’s referring to the structure of a nine-to-five job that has previously prevented many struggling actors, comedians and writers from pursuing their dreams in order to maintain a decent income.</p><p>Enter Groupon. The online coupon company hires people with comedic backgrounds to write witty copy and to provide customer service. The company prides itself on letting their employees have personal autonomy, and set their own schedules.</p><p>There have been other companies who have tried to achieve a similar success with creative types; Libera referenced advertising firms that have created think tanks of improvisers to improve their product. But she said that individuals who work at those companies face an “either/or” choice – they are told they can either pursue their passion, or do their day job.</p><p>Shawn Bowers graduated from college two years ago, and had been freelancing and working as a nanny before he landed his job in customer support at Groupon in August 2010. He called his career in entertainment “the standard Chicago improviser experience” of iO training and the Second City Conservatory. He’s in several sketch groups locally, and has had his work published on McSweeney’s. “I’m in the ‘whoever will print you, whoever will let you perform’ mentality, it’s that phase of my development.”</p><p>Bowers cited the musical&nbsp;<em>Rent</em> as a story that doesn’t play anymore. <em>Rent</em> follows bohemian artists living in New York in the 1980s, struggling to make ends meet. The main character worries about whether he would be “selling out” by working for a news corporation instead of on his own documentary. But to Bowers, “The idea [of] selling out is not a real thing anymore – it’s the idea of selling in.”</p><p>His coworker Bobby Mittelstadt agrees. After graduating in 2010, relocating to Chicago was his goal. After a brief stopover in LA to work as a production assistant on a television show, he found a position as a staff writer for Groupon. He’d already done a semester at Second City through Columbia College’s Comedy Studies program, and was going through the interview process right as Groupon was being pursued by Google. “Just being able to move back to Chicago was huge for me,” Mittelstadt said, describing the comedy scene in Chicago as where it all began.</p><p>Whatever candidates like Bowers and Mittelstadt have seems to be working; Groupon Director of Communications Julie Mossler admits that creative types are sought out by the company. "Being a comedian or an artist is a selling point for certain roles at Groupon,” Mossler said via email. “We've found that improv actors are usually quite empathetic, think quickly and really connect with customers, making them perfect customer service representatives. Writers and artists are woven into the fabric of Groupon's culture....they keep the company colorful and they are who we are.”</p><p>“It’s not necessarily like we’re doing improv exercises all day, but it’s the same tenants of improv – we’re making connections with people all day, saying ‘Yes, and…?’, that’s what we do all day here,” Bowers said, referring to an improv technique of moving the scene forward by never saying no. Mittelstadt believes that his work at Groupon has made his writing significantly better.</p><p>What is unclear is how sustainable the company’s growth is. According to <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748704828104576021481410635432-lMyQjAxMTAwMDEwODExNDgyWj.html" title="http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052748704828104576021481410635432-lMyQjAxMTAwMDEwODExNDgyWj.html">a report conducted by Groupon's marketing association</a>, the company expects to make $1 billion in sales faster than any other business ever has. This could cause changes in their original employee model and lead Groupon to make more generic hires. Currently, the one constant at Groupon is age; the average employee is in their mid-20s.</p><p>Groupon is not the first company known for hiring struggling actors and comedians in Chicago. Bowers pointed out that the Museum of Science and Industry used to hire a number of comedians. “It used to kind of be an in-joke within the community, ‘Oh, they must work at MSI.’ And now the in-joke is, ‘Oh, you must work at Groupon,’” said Bowers.</p><p>Due to the number of employees they’ve hired in such a short time, the impact of the company on the Chicago economy is notable. Mittelstadt believes that Groupon has helped a significant portion on the population of starving artists in Chicago.</p><p>Whether they’ll stay at Groupon is the question. Libera doesn’t see loss as a bad thing – like Second City, she believes Groupon’s business model is one that allows for turnover that’s healthy for the company.</p><p>“New corporate cultures tend to be more flexible than older ones,” Libera said. “That level of freedom and flexibility and all of that, has been successful for them, that’s one of the things that tends to go as companies get bigger and older. It would be wonderful if it didn’t.”</p><p>Bowers and Mittelstadt agree with her; both plan to eventually make a move to Los Angeles, and ultimately would like to be full-time in the entertainment industry.</p><p>“I have a feeling I’ll move out to LA, but as far as getting my training, I wouldn’t want to get it anywhere else, even New York,” Mittelstadt said. But “After you work here for awhile, it’d be really easy, I discovered, to accidentally uncover a career at Groupon.”</p><p>But for many of these young Groupon employees, the future either way looks alright. “Obviously being incredibly notorious and wealthy would be a wonderful end game to that pursuit,” said Bowers. “But the way it is now is not such a terrible endgame, if this were the endgame. To be able to be stable and still fulfill the dream of entertaining people at night, I mean, what more can you ask for really?”</p></p> Tue, 31 May 2011 19:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/groupon-employees-dont-sell-out-they-sell-87240 A healthy dose of laughter for patients suffering from memory loss http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-25/healthy-dose-laughter-patients-suffering-memory-loss-87012 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-May/2011-05-25/DSCN0553.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>If laughter is the best medicine then Chicago must be the feel-good city. After all, it's the home of improvisational theater. Now researchers at <a href="http://brain.northwestern.edu/" target="_blank">Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine </a>are looking at other benefits of laughter.</p><p>They’re exploring whether improv might be just what the doctor ordered for a certain group of patients.</p><p>For WBEZ, Julianne Hill reports.</p><p>Researchers want to know even more about the powers of imagination-- and laughter.&nbsp; They are looking at improv to see how it affects the well-being of an unusual group of patients.</p><p>At 10:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, about a dozen people file into an improvisational theater class. Among them, a pretty blond in her &nbsp;50s and a woman who is a retired biologist and wears big glasses. And a retired professor.</p><p>The course is held in a conference room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and looks like any other continuing education class. But the players in this class are different: Everyone in the ensemble has dementia.</p><p>Mary O’Hara is a social worker at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.</p><p>“Improv is all about being in the moment. For someone with memory loss, that is a very safe place. Maybe thinking about the past and trying to remember makes the person a little bit anxious. Or even a bit sad because their memory is failing. And maybe thinking about the future too much is also anxiety provoking So being in the moment is such a safe and a good place to be,” O’Hara explained.</p><p>Northwestern’s researchers are working with the Lookingglass Theater Company. They want to know if this 8-week program using theater games affects the players’ quality of life.</p><p>“There’s no experience required, there’s no script, there’s no memorization. They bring to it just their creative potential. And they are successful at this,” O’Hara said.</p><p>Christine Mary Dunford with the Lookingglass led the group of novice performers in very simple improv games.</p><p>“Some of the basic tenants of improv that are perfect for working with people with dementia are the concept of yes, or yes and. So fundamental to all our work is that whatever answer someone comes up with the rest of us are going to be able to work with it,” Dunford began. “My favorite moments are when they are delighting each other and they have a lot of fun. You know what I think my favorite exercise of all time is? ‘Yes It Is’ because they take an object and they transform it and they always surprise themselves and the others. And it’s always magical and exciting,” Dunford explained.</p><p>Later, Dunford told the players to stand in a circle for a listening game called, “Chord.”</p><p>“We’re going to close our eyes and we’re just going to hum on the same sound. After a while, when it starts feeling really good, anybody who wants to can change the pitch or add a different kind of sound,” Dunford said.</p><p>After about two minutes, the chord morphed into nature sounds.</p><p>“We’re never trying to be funny. We’re just an improvisation group: We’re an ensemble of people working together and it ends up being funny quite often but just as often it ends up being touching or moving or provoking,” Dunford explained.</p><p>The players—like Wolfgang—all brought their lifetimes of experience into the room.</p><p>“I was a professor of Hebrew studies, old testament at this university here, oh, in the northern suburbs here. I have Alzheimer’s and that’s why I don’t remember it but you know it was one of the big universities in this area,” Wolfgang shared.</p><p>The group plays sculptor, molding one another into an emotion.</p><p>“One of you is the sculptor and one of you is the clay,” Dunford instructed the group.</p><p>Outside the room, Wolfgang’s wife Mary Beth waited for him.</p><p>Hill asked her what it’s like being the caregiver of someone with dementia, watching him lose skills on a day-by-day basis and to come to class and thinking that he’ll learn something.</p><p>“I know this is a study but, this is an opportunity for us to enjoy something.; partly together and partly separately. My hope for him is he maintains this very sweet disposition. There is still so much of him there. And we still have a deep relationship.&nbsp; The hardest thing for me is,” Mary Beth struggled, “that it can’t really grow.”</p><p>Early results show the players experience an improved quality of life; Wolfgang agreed.</p><p>“I think we all have become more thoughtful in terms of the work in which we live. And it will indirectly show itself with our interactions with our family we have grandchildren, a wife, etc. etc. and also in the wider world,” Wolfgang said.</p><p>Julianne Hill is a freelance writer and producer, and a former recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for journalists covering mental health.</p><p><em>Music Button: Second Sky, "Under The Line", from the CD The Art of Influence, (ESL)</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 25 May 2011 14:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-05-25/healthy-dose-laughter-patients-suffering-memory-loss-87012