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Second City Proves It’s Second To None When It Comes To Comedy Sketch, Song fnd Improv

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)November 1, 2002

(Mahwah) – Chicago’s legendary comedy theater troupe, The Second City, will perform their trademark sketch, song and improv at Ramapo College of New Jersey Saturday, November 23, at 8 p.m. in the Sharp Theater. The Second City’s alumni list reads like a Who’s Who of American comedy/improvisation: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Alda, Mike Myers, Martin Short, John Belushi and Gilda Radner, among others.

Founded in Chicago in 1959, The Second City has been the starting point for many of the comedic actors, writers and directors working today in American film, television and theater. In addition to three touring companies that operate year-round, The Second City maintains resident theaters in Chicago, Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland. Training facilities exist in each of those locations, as well as New York and Los Angeles. Second City’s legendary television series SCTV is still seen in reruns across North America. Additionally, Second City operates a corporate division that customizes comedic entertainment for the business world. Its reputation has so far outgrown its humble beginnings that many first-time visitors are surprised at the theater’s still modest and informal atmosphere.

Taking its name from the title of A.J. Liebling’s derisive profile of Chicago in The New Yorker, The Second City opened on December 16, 1959. Before the startled actors knew it, they were inundated with praise from the press, including Time magazine, which called Second City “a temple of satire.” Chicagoans packed the place every night and the small club became a “must see” stopover for out-of-towners.

The Second City’s roots can be traced to a small group of students from the University of Chicago theater department in the early fifties. That group included Paul Sills, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Zohra Lampert, and Sheldon Patinkin. After sharpening their skills at the University Theatre, this band of young, politically active actors and writers left the south-side campus for a second floor ex-chop suey house at North and LaSalle streets and, along with David Shepherd, Barbara Harris, Ed Asner, and Byrne and Joyce Piven, created The Playwright’s Theatre Club. By 1954, with more than 25 productions to their credit, The Playwright’s Theatre Club closed.

In 1955, Shepherd and Sills regrouped to create the now legendary improvisational group, The Compass Players, to play local Chicago nightclubs. Meanwhile, some new faces had joined the old crowd, including Shelley Berman, Severn Darden, Roger Bowen, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, and Alan Arkin. By the time they broke up, the Compass Players had become the launching pad for the Broadway success of Nichols and May, as well as the cabaret and concert fame of Shelly Berman.

In the fall of 1959, Paul Sills joined forces with Howard Alk and producer Bernard Sahlins to once again establish a permanent home for an improvisational-based theater group. They approached the owner of a shuttered Chinese laundry on the edge of Old Town and asked to rent his building. It took some persuasion, but once open the doors of The Second City have never closed. Though still far short of being venerable, The Second City has become a North American theatrical institution. Writing in The New York Times, Clive Barnes was prompted to state that, “The entire recent tradition of American theatrical satire can be summed up in three words: The Second City.”

The Sharp Theater is located in the Berrie Center at Ramapo College. Admission is $21 adults, $18 seniors, and $10 students. For additional information, call (201) 684-7844.


About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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