Cover image for The Second City almanac of improvisation
The Second City almanac of improvisation
Libera, Anne.
Publication Information:
Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiii, 196 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 26 cm
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PN2071.I5 S43 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

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

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Most previous books about Second City, Chicago's improvisation-based comedy cabaret (the most noteworthy is Sheldon Patinkin's Second City, 2000), just chronicle its history and list illustrious alums (Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, et al.). None explores SC's complex creative process and its relationship to comic improvisation as thoroughly as Libera's does. While SC-style comedy rests on the foundation of Viola Spolin's theater games, for a long time at SC, improv was mainly a tool for training actors and generating material. That caused much grumbling by lovers of pure improv; meanwhile, director Del Close dreamed of creating fully improvised shows so good that transcripts could be published as finished plays. In gemlike essays by SC directors, teachers, and actors, including improv guru Martin de Maat and Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson), and additional material by Libera, the book reveals the extent to which there is no single SC creative method but, instead, an ongoing, heated discussion of SC's art and its 45-year winning streak. --Jack Helbig Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The improvisational children's games created by Viola Spolin, documented in her book Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (1963, now in its 3rd edition), have become the basis for the work of improvisational theater companies like Second City, which is based in Chicago and is also active in many venues and on tour. Spolin's work has become essential in many academic and private actor-training programs. Libera is artistic director of the Second City Training Center and a Second City resident director, and she offers a kind of scrapbook in which practitioners of improvisation analyze what they do. Spolin's book has been a rich resource for acting teachers, and Libera's well-annotated collection will be an excellent supplement. Libera arranges the book's content under seven main headings--"Beginning," "Playing the Scene," "The Performer inside the Scene," "Improvisation and Acting," "Long Forms, Short Forms, Scenes, and Games," "Creating Material," and "Directing"--and she provides a generous selection of exercises and games. Writers and others interested in the creative process can gain insight from the book. Although Libera includes photographs, most are without captions; unfortunately the book lacks an index. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Collections supporting the study of theater performance at all levels. R. Sugarman emeritus, Southern Vermont College

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 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 1
Chapter 2 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 2
Chapter 3 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 3
Chapter 4 Improvisation and Acting
Building a Character within an Ensemble through the Games
An Improvisational Almanac
Part 4
Chapter 5 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 5
Chapter 6 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 6
Chapter 7 Directing
Blessed Obstacles
Running Orders
Ideal Running Order
An Improvisational Almanac
Part 7 Recommended Reading