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Wednesday
Dec162009

On the Scene: The Second City 50th Anniversary Celebration

Eugene Levy, Jeremy Smith, Catherine O'Hara and Jen Candy | All photos courtesy of Jeremy Smith

Our Man in Chicago, Jeremy Smith, was on the scene this past weekend for the The Second City's 50th anniversary celebration. Smith started working at Second City in 2002 as a stage manager for one of the National Touring Companies. He became a producer for the corporate division for a few years and was the stage manager this summer for "Rod Blagojevich Superstar," which enjoyed a 6-month run at The Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Although Smith is only now catching up on his sleep, we immediately bugged him for some details about the grand event. His answers were edited for space and clarity.

The Apiary: So, how did you find yourself palling around with some of the heaviest hitters in comedy? Were you working the events?

Smith: Robin Hammond at Second City asked if I would help coordinate some of the last-minute things this weekend, and I jumped at the opportunity. I was able to watch some of the early show on Saturday night and then a few of my favorite scenes at the late show.

Scott Adsit, Jeremy Smith and Kate Flannery

Beyond seeing all of these incredible people just hanging out and catching up, what struck me the most -- given my background as a former National Touring Company member -- was seeing the original cast members perform the scenes that we toured all around the country.

If you're lucky, you get to watch a tape of their performance before you rehearse, but to see Steve Carell and Steven Colbert perform "Maya," and Scott Adsit and Jon Glaser perform "Wheelchairs." That was something I'll never forget.

Beyond that, it was wonderful to see everyone -- and I mean everyone -- in one place, at one time, talking about memories and what the Second City means to them, what it prepared them for after they left, and what they are doing now.

The Apiary: Give us a few more Harry Caray "Holy Cow" moments from the weekend.

Smith: Definitely Steven Colbert's tender-man kiss with David Razowsky. There was also the classic scene Pictionary with Steve Carell, Paul Dinello, Fran Adams, and Ruthie Rudnick where at one point Carell is supposed to knock down the easel they are using to draw the "person, place, thing or phrase." Well, he did, and then walked right through it shattering it into what seemed like a million pieces.

Dave Thomas & Jeremy SmithFor those of us who know that scene, which is practically everybody, that was something we had never seen, let alone watching them recover the scene by stacking four bentwood chairs into a makeshift easel. And watching Jack McBrayer playing castanets with Peter Grosz on guitar was also pretty darn hilarious.

There was always something going on in every space in the building. I should mention here that Second City has pretty much taken over the space at Piper's Alley so there were a lot of new places that most of the alumni had not seen yet, like the new Martin de Maat Theater on the third floor where the Black Orchid Supper Club used to be. We were able to simulcast the Mainstage performances on Saturday to these other spaces so everyone could enjoy the performances.

Fred Willard and Jeremy Smith

The 7PM show on Saturday was an enormous and successful undertaking. Both the Mainstage and the e.t.c. theater began their first acts of the alumni show,  and then at intermission the actors just switched stages, so people in both venues got to see every scene without having to get up and move. I really have to give a shout-out toeveryone -- namely Klaus Schuller, Lee Bracket, Joe Ruffner, and Craig Taylor -- who made that changeover possible. Because moving that many bodies and props without incident is magical.

Additionally, the "Second City in the 60s" panel was a hot ticket. Bernie Sahlins, Dick Schaal, Sheldon Patinkin, Joyce Sloan, Mina Kolb, just to name a few, spoke about their experiences and the birthing of this group. I was there because I love the Second City and I wouldn't be there if these folks and the folks after them hadn't been so passionate about the art that they were creating and crafting.

The Apiary: So if you had to pick the most lasting memory of the weekend for you?

Jeremy Smith & Neil FlynnSmith: There were really two things that happened over and over again. First, everyone was cool, accessible, and really happy to be there. Imagine having a high school reunion with all the cool kids and they're all really likeable -- wait, in a good way -- and you're also one of the cool kids and you all shared a similar experience. Second, I enjoyed seeing old, old friends actually have the chance to see each other for the first time in a long time. When they would approach each other and smile and embrace, they really didn't need words. It was touching.

The Apiary: What are you working on right now?

Smith: I'll be working on Comedy of Errors at Chicago Shakespeare Theater this winter and I'll be at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin working on eight shows this summer. For those folks who want to catch a show at Second City, they just opened their 97th revue on the Mainstage (Taming of the Flu) and the e.t.c. is running their 33rd revue (Studs Terkel's Not Working).

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