The Second City, the Windy City-based comedy troupe known for producing comedic talent like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert, knows a thing or two about laughs. And now Second City is bringing comedy to underprivileged kids that may never have the opportunity to experience improvisational comedy and acting. This June, Second City is kicking off its annual 2012 Summer Camps, where hundreds of students are given the opportunity to develop their inner-Will Ferrell.
Second City began in 1959 (the moniker a play on the mocking “second city” status of Chicago compared to New York City). Since its beginning, Second City has honed the skills of noted actors, directors, and writers, including Alan Arkin, John Candy, and other SNL cast members like Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, and John Belushi. Second City’s Training Center “follows the traditions developed by these groundbreaking and innovative men and women” while introducing new students to comedy and improvisation through courses and revues.
This same educationally-based experience carries to students, children and adults at the annual summer camps. Through the end of August, the Second City camps—broken up into one to two week offerings—teach improv, writing, stand-up comedy, acting, and musical improvisation. Scholarships are offered on merit- and need-based opportunities through Second City Outreach & Diversity.
Second City Outreach & Diversity, a division within the troupe, was created to fill the void of diversity on stage and in improvisational comedy. Though as Director of Outreach & Diversity Dionna Griffin-Irons says, there is much more diversity in improv since the popularity of viral videos.
“There are still more white male voices [in improv]. It’s increasing from where it was ten years ago, but there’s always a need to expand. Right now we are seeing a lot more [diverse] actors and stand-up comedians, but when it comes to improv, there’s a myth that ‘it’s not for me. I’m not funny.’ We’ve seen a large increase but we’re still trying to increase that pool ever more.”
Outreach & Diversity not only provides scholarships, but ongoing training and opportunities for minority talent to perform. Over 20 scholarships are given out each year with the help of sports brand PUMA—no small feat for an organization which doesn’t net much profit after paying talent, funding, production, and providing for divisions like Outreach & Diversity.
“PUMA is very interested in diversity and embraced our mission. We share similar values in our mission statement in reaching out and embracing the community. It’s been a great partnership in terms of the scholarships and creating awareness,” related Griffin-Irons.
Building partnerships and reaching out to communities and universities for new talent is vital to Second City. An improv writing program, Creating Access to Improv, is geared towards high school students in underserved areas. Training and educating actors of color is also paramount to the department. Biannually, the Outreach & Diversity Ensemble performs a comedy revue based on Second City’s best acting and music, but with an urban feel. Through panels and workshops throughout the year, Second City also hopes to reach more underrepresented minority adults and children who may be interested in the comedic arts.
“It kind of goes back to the art form itself. If we are being true to improv, that all voices need to be heard and all stories be told, then the way you do that is by reaching out, hearing those stories, and listening. It’s important that this art form is shared. Improv is a great creative tool that anyone can use—board members, lawyers, community leaders, and mothers. It’s all about exposure [to improv]. You can’t keep the funny to yourself … you have to pass it along.”
Second City Cares, held May 20, raises funds for three areas of Second City: scholarships, Outreach & Diversity, and education. If interested in giving or attending please visit secondcity.com.