Second City backs up CPS kids
Training center offered free improv, sketch-writing classes during strike
09/19/2012 10:00 PM
For most of the last two weeks, the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike left schools across the city of Chicago empty. Without their regular destinations, hundreds of thousands of kids across the city were left in the lurch.
But in a fourth-floor room in Old Town’s Piper’s Alley, nine kids were still flexing their brains on Sept. 17. Othell Owen, 8, pretended he was a robot; Jordan McMahon, 8, waxed about how much she loved music; Henry Danisch, 10, showed his Chicago pride and lambasted the city’s winters.
Back and forth they ranted and raved, sometimes individually, sometimes all at once. It all happened at the whim of Edmund O’Brien, a teacher with the Second City’s Training Academy.
O’Brien would point at the kids one, two, three, four or five at a time like a conductor, and they’d spout off on demand, talking until he motioned for them to stop. Some looked exhausted or relieved when they were shut off, but some looked ready to keep going. Finally, with a mighty swipe of his hand, they all stopped.
It was just one of the small groups led over the last two weeks by Second City, as one of the city’s most proven developers of brilliant young comedic minds stepped up to the plate to help out during the strike. Like many other organizations, they were simply hoping to help out in a time of need for many Chicagoans.
As the strike began, Andrew Alexander, Second City’s CEO, decided he wanted to do something to help kids and their parents. So on Tuesday, Sept. 11, he reached out to the head of Second City’s training centers, Kerry Sheehan, and asked if she could put something together — for free.
In the span of a few hours, she wrangled up some of Second City’s part-time staff, sent out a press release, posted info about the programs on Facebook and Twitter, and opened up online registration. By the end of that day, they had enough kids signed up for the camp and started it the next day.
The sessions were paid for completely out of their operating budget, Sheehan said.
“There’s just one reason to do that, and that’s to try to help,” Sheehan said in an interview Monday, before the strike was called off. “These families and kids are in a bad situation.”
Running from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., the camps used much of the same curriculum as Second City’s summer camps and after school programs. The 57 kids enrolled in the program divvied their time up between improv and skit-writing classes, and got the chance to watch a group of professional Second City actors perform in the middle of the day.
“The training center has offered kids programming for years and years, and we do this all throughout the summer,” Sheehan said. “So we didn’t have to reinvent any sort of wheels. We just had to wrangle the summer troops, essentially.”
After O’Brien finished teaching his kids Monday afternoon, he said despite the camps’ circumstances, it wasn’t that different from the regular summer classes he’s taught.
“In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t feel that different from the summer group,” he said. “I will say, perhaps, it might be a tiny bit more diverse culturally. In the summer, 97 percent of the class might look alike. Here, it’s a more diverse all across the board. … It probably just speaks to people who are aware of the institution and what goes on here.”
Some of the kids might get hooked and come back, but some might just be able to take the classes under these circumstances.
“I’d imagine some of these kids, if given the opportunity to pay for these classes, would,” O’Brien said. “Whereas I think others are clearly able to take the opportunity because it’s free.”