Second City Almanac of Improvisation


It all began in a converted Chinese laundry on Chicago's north side on a cold December night in 1959. No one could have known that by the next century, The Second City would have established itself as the premier comedy institution in the world. Taking its act north, The Second City would build a second permanent home in Toronto where it would create the Emmy-Award winning television series "SCTV." Pioneering the use of improvisation in developing talent and creating satiric revue comedy, The Second City has ...
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It all began in a converted Chinese laundry on Chicago's north side on a cold December night in 1959. No one could have known that by the next century, The Second City would have established itself as the premier comedy institution in the world. Taking its act north, The Second City would build a second permanent home in Toronto where it would create the Emmy-Award winning television series "SCTV." Pioneering the use of improvisation in developing talent and creating satiric revue comedy, The Second City has become - in the words of the New York Times - "A Comedy Empire."

The Second City Almanac of Improvisation - like the theatre itself - is a collection of diverse ideas, viewpoints, and memories, written by a vast array of teachers, actors, and directors who all got their start at the legendary comedy theatre. Fred Willard recalls his introduction to The Second City style in the mid-Sixties; Tim Kazurinsky gives a hilarious visual demonstration on the art of object work; "Saturday Night Live" star Tina Fey talks about re-improvising material as a mode of writing revue comedy; noted director Mick Napier takes on the thorny debate between long-form improvisation and short-form improvisation. Anne Libera guides the reader through each essay by providing a road map for understanding how The Second City method of improv-based comedy has become the industry standard.

Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, Peter Boyle, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Candy, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, George Wendt, Jim Belushi, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Myers, Ryan Stiles, Rachel Dratch, Nia Vardalos - no other theatre can boast an alumni list of this magnitude. The Second City Almanac of Improvisation provides practical instruction, personal details, and inspiration to both improvisers and their fans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Second City is not only a Chicago treasure, it's one of the most important theatre companies in the United States. Their legacy and commitment to improvisation and comedy is invaluable!" -Robert Falls, Artistic Director of The Goodman Theatre

"The alumni of Second City from John Belushi to Martin Short have changed my entire life and brought a new kind of comedy to America and the World." -Bernie Brillstein, Founding Partner of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment

"Second City teaches its actors what it means to be part of an ensemble. It's a technique that forces the actor to listen and be supportive during a scene. In an audition, I can always spot a Second City trained actor. First, I check their resume and then I observe an actor whose characters are well developed, honest and real." -Dick Blasucci, Executive Producer, MadTV

Library Journal
The Second City, with its decades-old international reputation, is the training ground for many of the best improvisational actors in the United States. Libera, artistic director of the Second City Training Center and resident director at the theater, has brought together a wonderful selection of background material, essays, stories, and exercises. The material, written by 29 contributors, including directors, teachers, and alumni, gives an abundance of information that any actor or director interested in improv would want. It also shows how hard improv is; nonprofessionals will appreciate what goes into making it all look as if "it just happened." Chapters include topics such as creating material, working on short- and long-form exercises, and playing the scene. A chapter on directing improv contains a hilarious "play" by director Ron West called "Blessed Obstacles," in which a new director named Phil is getting advice from West; it is worth the price of the book. Interspersed throughout is a series of seven "improvisational almanacs," each of which is a collection of thoughtful, pithy sentences of advice and words of wisdom: "Treat absurd notions seriously" remains this reviewer's favorite. An excellent, less formal companion to Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater and Rob Kozlowski's The Art of Chicago Improv; recommended for all academic and public libraries with theater collections. (Photos not seen.)-Susan L. Peters, Univ. of Texas, Galveston Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810118010
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 477,615
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Libera is the artistic director of The Second City Training Center and also resident director at The Second City.
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Table of Contents


Chapter One: Beginning
Viola Spolin
First Class
The Rules
Object Work, or "A Mime Is Not a Terrible Thing to Waste"
"Yes, and . . ." and "Explore and Heighten"
Give and Take
Where We Came From: A Very Brief History of Revue
An Improvisational Almanac, Part One

Chapter Two: Playing the Scene
Perfect Partner
Relationship Exercises
Transformation of Relationships
Perfect Partner Part II
Living Large in the Moment
Play Is Physical
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Two

Chapter Three: The Performer inside the Scene
A Few Thoughts on Improvisation
Finding the Funny
How Do You Create Characters? or "I Do This Hilarious Guy Who Has a Funny Hat"
Three Kinds of Character
Playing at the Top of Your Intelligence
Character: Playing with Intelligence and Heart
In the Beginning . . . Making Initiations
Crossing the Line and Going Blue
Forming Opinions
Finding Scenic Point of View
Finding Your Voice
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Three

Chapter Four: Improvisation and Acting
Building a Character within an Ensemble through the Games
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Four

Chapter Five: Long Forms, Short Forms, Scenes, and Games
Improvisation: The Fine Line between Suck and Not Bad and How to Get Away from That Line and Go to Another Line Where the Options Are Better
Del Close
Del Close Games
What's Better? Long Form or Short Form?
What Is Long-Form Improvisation?
Scenic Structure 101
Don DePollo
Top Ten Performance Games of The Second City National Touring Company
Editing and Beats
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Five

Chapter Six: Creating Material
Doing It Again
Pre-Planning a Second City Scene
The Ensemble Creates a Revue
Putting Up a Traditional Second City Improv Set
Blackouts and Extended Blackouts
How to Bottle Lightning for Fun and Profit
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Six

Chapter Seven: Directing
Blessed Obstacles
Running Orders
Ideal Running Order
An Improvisational Almanac, Part Seven

Recommended Reading
Contributors: Sandra Balcovske, Dexter Bullard, Andrew Currie, Chris Earle, Tina Fey, Shari Hollett, Bruce Hunter, Nick Johne, Tim Kazurinsky, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Leonard, Frank McAnulty, Adam McKay, Patrick McKenna, Susan Messing, Jonathan Pitts, David Razowsky, Jeff Richmond, Bernie Sahlins, Brian Stack, Ron West, Fred Willard.

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