Although they hail from Chicago, the improv troupe The Second City visits Pittsburgh with a show exclusively for and about the city’s residents.
The critically acclaimed ensemble will perform its original show “N’At’s All Folks!” six times at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater from Jan. 6 through Jan. 10 in Downtown Pittsburgh. Since the show is a new creation, and the group will improvise certain sections, there should be many surprises for audiences. It will largely be both a celebration and satire of Pittsburgh culture. The Second City is the country’s first ongoing comedy troupe. Since 1959 it has been training and launching countless now-famous alumni, including Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Bill Murray.
“I think people should leave the show feeling proud to be from Pittsburgh,” John Thibodeaux, one of six performers in “N’At’s All Folks!,” said.
The cast promises that no two shows will be exactly alike, making any performance an exclusive experience. The production — split into two 45-minute acts — will be comprised of some classic Second City scenes from their archive, audience-inspired improv and Pittsburgh-focused topics, such as sports rivalries and politics. Lisa Beasley, a seasoned member of Second City, also teases that the cast has been studying up on their Pittsburgh accents.
The Pittsburgh Public Theater, after being impressed by an original show back in 2008, invited Second City to look back at the best of the troupe’s more than 50 years in the funny business and more recent Pittsburgh happenings.
According to Nate DuFort, the producing director of Second City’s touring companies, Second City has experience in putting together these customized, city-centric shows. Pittsburgh is a part of the countrywide tour of similar shows entitled “Second City Hits Home.”
“The coolest part is that whatever show you come to, that’s going to be the only show like that,” Beasley said.
For Beasley, improv comedy proved more rewarding than her time in traditional theater.
“When I was doing scripted theater, I loved it, but I was just that one character for six weeks. In one show [with Second City], I could be six characters in 10 minutes,” Beasley said.
Another performer, Alan Linic, acknowledged the combination of individual and group work with Second City.
“There’s a lot that must be done on one’s own – learning lines, finding humor or where to add little personal touches, studying archive videos,” Linic said. “But there’s just as much that is discovered through [the] rehearsal process … there are a lot of moving parts and lines and blocking and songs to memorize.”
Although Second City bases one of its major training facilities out of Chicago, it travels and performs more than 400 shows a year both domestically and internationally. Both Thibodeaux and Linic went through Chicago’s conservatory program, developing lasting relationships as well as sharper improvisational skills.
“It’s just nice to be in an environment where there are so many like-minded people around,” Thibodeaux said. He remains friends with many of his classmates from his yearlong program at the training center.
Steven Boyd, Editor-in-Chief of The Pittiful News, a monthly satire paper at Pitt, went through Second City’s month-long intensive improv program — taught in part by Stephen Colbert’s former roommate — in Chicago in 2013.
“The Chicago scene is very much rooted in just developing the raw talent for being onstage,” Boyd said.
Boyd said part of the skill of improv learning is “how to progress a storyline without having any rules.”
All three Second City performers said nearly the same thing about the challenges of improv — it’s all about intuition and “getting out of your head,” as Beasley put it. Overthinking devastates improv, Beasley said, and the simple task of walking can become a gargantuan feat.
“If someone asks you to ‘walk normally,’ it’s almost impossible to do it. There’s just so much going on – where to put your legs, what your arms are doing, how much breathing is too much, the pace. Improv, likewise, is easiest when you just do it,” Linic said.
The cast, despite the particular challenges of their unusual work, finds inspiration in the many great talents that have preceded them.
Linic and Thibodeaux still find it hard to believe that they’re doing what their heroes did.
“Every once in a while you have to stop and look around and realize how lucky you are,” Thibodeaux said. He grew up loving Saturday Night Live and became interested in Second City once he realized where his favorite performers were coming from.
For the indifferent and unmoved in the Pittsburgh scene, Thibodeaux said those who see the show will receive “a renewed sense of community.”
Beasley is equally optimistic about the show’s reception.
“It’s an experience. I’m trying to think of another way to say extremely fun, but that is a statement in itself … and it’s good to just laugh,” Beasley said, urging yinzers to “start off the New Year doing something different and just having some fun.”