Let me tell you a story. Back in early 2000 my best friend and I had a plan to move to Chicago, study at Second City and become stars or something similar. We both flew an ill advised redeye flight from Vegas to Chicago, stayed at a Sleep Inn near Midway, and at some point paid Old Town and the famed Piper’s Alley theater a visit to see the e.t.c. revue du jour… possibly a Best Of revue given my memories match some classic SC material (I’ve been told).
Having not done anything other than high school theater and screw-around sketch back in Vegas, we were blown away at the cabaret seating with dinner service, and the flawless polish of the entire show combined with the living breathing performer enthusiasm for their comedy.
In that long 90 minute moment I felt… ‘to hell with SNL’. This was the living, breathing dream of comedy, everything I could ever want to feel and live on a stage… right here on this stage. I totally loved it. Despite the daunting challenge of living in hard knock Chicago, I was ready to go, where do I sign, when do I start….
But my best friend was also rattled by our rough experience Chicago, not having dealt with the street life as much as I had to date, and finding the potential costs too much to bear. I shook off the street harassment, our experience on an ill-advised-in-hindsight bus ride down Garfield Blvd, the high price of housing, the challenge of finding a job to afford such housing, the pain in the ass of getting around.
But he was suitably discouraged (after our connecting flight’s cancellation left us stranded overnight in Columbus, no less… looking back, for a trip I enjoyed, it sure was a shit sandwich of a trip). Shortly after we returned home, he called it off. Without him joining me, I couldn’t afford to make the move.
I shook it off figuring at the time I’d do it at some point. It turns out I didn’t make the move for 14 years. And for most of those 14 years I figured I wouldn’t ever do it… before I actually did it this past winter.
However, hindsight shows taking the plunge in 2000 might have been a terrible mistake. We could not have afforded the places we had viewed. The job market, even if it was kind to us, wouldn’t have given us much chance to do so. My 2015 street smarts indicated 2000 Me would have probably been mugged and/or killed due to lacking awareness. Life at best would have been a broke and miserable slog, and I have a feeling I wouldn’t have been able to afford to train at the Second City in those circumstances. And I probably would have froze to death during winter.
Most of all, the life path I ended up actually taking taught me a ton of life lessons and skills which helped me become at the least a fairly good and original performer. Armed with virtually none of those lessons and skills in 2000, I imagine my Second City experience, if I could have afforded it, wouldn’t have gone at all well. I would have been (despite my sense of humor) a hair above adequate in basic improv classes, and there was probably no way I would have gotten into Conservatory or beyond. I’d imagine I would have, at best, bounced around for a few years doing barprov and random sketch groups, and then given it up. More than likely, I probably would have done nothing for a while and then given it up. I simply was not ready for Second City, or for Chicago’s improv and sketch scene.
Forever and a couple days passed before I approached the comedy summit again. I didn’t take a single improv class until 2010, and over the years had an on again off again relationship with sketch. Once in it took years of practice and lessons to get passably decent at either. I got back into theatre, and took up clown/dance/solo-theatre/experimenting/storytelling/etc over the next four years. It all turned me into an uncanny jack of many performance trades. Once I finally took the leap to Chicago at the end of last year, I had the tools to hit the ground running and make the strides I have since.
In the interim I discovered iO and Annoyance and other Chicago options. Mick Napier’s Improvise remains to this day the single biggest influence on my improvisation. By the time I arrived in Chicago, Second City, once my dream destination, became the farthest thing from my mind. Somewhat ironically, my friend and roommate moved here to study at the Second City Conservatory. But I had learned the other schools offered the improv education and opportunity I was looking for, and have been pretty happy with what I’ve experienced since.
Still, I retain my respect for Second City, still enjoy the theater’s work, and the point of all this is to say, on top of what’s been a shit sandwich of a day for me personally, it made me sad to learn a downstairs fire caused extensive damage to their Piper’s Alley office, lobby and facilities.
Thankfully, the stage spaces were mostly undamaged, and no one at the theater was hurt. I’ve passed the point of putting a theater on a pedestal of dreams, though I hope to find the chance to work with Second City someday. I don’t want to see this happen to any decent theater, I do have friends who work in and with the theater, and I hope this little disaster is an opportunity for them to rebuild new and improved facilities.