Second City comes first |

Second City comes first

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyThe Second City is an improv-based comedy troupe. They perform at the Vilar Center on Monday.

The theater company is almost synonymous with Chicago-based comedy, though they have resident troupes in five other cities. Chicago is the home nest, which is why they’re part of this summer’s Theatre Festival, “The Best of Chicago Theatre.” Their comedy act has been making waves since 1959. They perform a combination of improv and sketches.

“The National Touring Company does a best-of show,” said cast member Tom Flanigan. “These are the best scenes of roughly the last 10 years, the gems of the bunch. The actors get to pick from that, and we pepper in improvisational acts. We often do a fully improvised third act.”

They’re bringing with them a piano player, as they’ve got some comic songs, too.

Flanigan originally moved to Chicago for a job with a consulting firm. He saw “American Beauty” a few years ago. He walked out of the theater and knew he was going to quit his job.

“I didn’t want to wake up like Lester Burnham, having a mid-life crisis because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to with my life,” he said.

And so he chucked the consulting gig and pursued his dream. In addition to working with The Second City, which he describes as his hands-down favorite job ever, Flanigan also has his own theater company. It focuses on sketch comedy revues.

“Most people in the touring company have done something on their own,” he said. “It’s a common thread that I think the producers look for.”

The sort of determined initiative needed to create their own acts serves the improvisers well on stage. For an improvisation to be a success, there can’t be much shilly shallying around while deciding on a direction and running with it. Ideas usually come from the audience, as attendees are expected to shout out suggestions when it’s requested.

Though it’s improv that the troupe practices.

“You don’t know exactly what suggestion the audience will come up with, but you can practice working with your partner,” said Flanigan. “There’s a certain tendency today for comedy to be pure shock. I think Second City is satirizing society. In order to be a good performer in Second City, to do your audience a service, you have to be aware of what’s going on in the world.”

To this end, all the morning papers are laid out at the coffee bar when the troupe files in on rehearsal days. They like to pay special attention to political goings ons. They come from a workman’s perspective.

“There’s a certain blue-collar feel to theater in Chicago,” he said. “The Belushi brothers weren’t from money – very few Second City actors are from money. It’s a lot of middle class. Our tradition in theater is about holding up a mirror to the audience and reflecting what we can all recognize in our lives.”

There’s not a lot of glitz in Chicago theater. Most companies are small; it’s grassroots – a little grittier and more realistic.

Cast members for the Beaver Creek show are Matt Craig, Maribeth Monroe, Susan Salvi, Becky Drysdale, John Lutz and Flanigan.

“I love improv,” said Flanigan. “The feeling of connecting with your partner without knowing what’s going to happen, and with your audience – that element of surprise, that’s what keeps me going. My parents have tried to discourage me of course, but the stage is just something I kept coming back to.”

The Second City is performing at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Monday at 7:30 p.m. Be advised there are not many tickets still available. For more information call 845-TIXS.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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