The Second City turns out actors the way the Harvard MBA program turns out future CEOs, although of course the alumni of The Second City are a lot funnier.
For 30 years, The Second City - once described by Time magazine as "a temple of satire" - has produced some of the best and most successful comedic talent in the country. Its list of graduates includes Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Dan Aykroyd - and that just gets you through the A's.The famous improvisational troupe has been a training ground for Shelly Long, John and Jim Belushi, John Candy, Joan Rivers, Martin Short, Elaine May, Valerie Harper . . . the list goes on and on. They all learned their craft on one of Second City's stages.
The Second City touring company, a portable version of the Chicago group, will be in Salt Lake City Feb. 10 for one appearance, at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus, beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 and $10 ($7 and $5 for students; $12 and $8 for U. faculty and staff).
This will be Second City's first trip to Salt Lake.
The evening will include "the best of Second City," culled from the group's 30 years of sketches, and some improvisational sets based on audience participation.
The key to good improv is not to be ready with a one-liner but "to have a good set of ears," notes Dave Sinker, one of the seven touring company members who will journey to Salt Lake.
"You can't go in with a preconceived notion. You have to work off the other actors and work with them. It's a very supportive art form."
Working with only a couple of chairs and a few costumes, the group focuses often on sketches that lampoon modern life, including, says Sinker, "a lot of relationship scenes. . . . It's very much like the old `Saturday Night Live."'
Like other members of the troupe, Sinker started out in the Second City Training Program, then auditioned for the touring company. Typically about 100 actors will audition for one opening.
None of the touring company members are famous yet. But give them a couple of years, and a chance to advance to the Chicago-based home company - that's where the talent scouts are always in the audience, notes Second City producer Joyce Sloane.
The Second City took its name, 30 years ago next fall, from an article in "The New Yorker" that poked fun at Chicago. But its roots go back even farther - to 1951, when a group of theater students at the University of Chicago, including Mike Nichols, formed the Playwright's Theatre Club.
That vision later evolved into two other improv groups, and later into The Second City, which set up shop in a renovated Chinese laundry in Chicago's Old Town.
The troupe has gone on to expand to a company in Toronto and in Los Angeles, plus the touring companies, and has been involved with several films, including David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." Probably the best known of Second City's ventures has been "SCTV," the TV spoof that was first produced in Canada and was later picked up by NBC.
A PR brochure of The Second City, full of pictures of its now-famous alums as they looked when they were with the group, is proof of how much the troupe has changed American comedic acting over the years - and how much those actors have changed. John Candy almost looks skinny.