Love and Laughs Online

The Second City returns to Arizona with a humorous take on modern dating

Those of you who saw last year's Second City show at the Arizona Theatre Company, The Second City Does Arizona, or Close but No Saguaro, may have already secured your tickets to the completely new Second City show breezing through town next week.

How could you miss a chance to see the world premiere of Sex and The Second City, Version 2.0, which is being hosted by ATC at both its Phoenix and Tucson venues?

Even if you've never heard of Second City, you are sure to have heard of some its illustrious alumni, including Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Jerry Stiller, Valerie Harper, Mike Nichols and Elaine May—and these are all people who were part of the group in 1959, when the fabled company specializing in sketch comedy and improvisation made its debut in the Windy City. Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Joan Rivers, Fred Willard, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Steve Carell are also famous alumni.

From its modest beginnings as an experimental outgrowth of the Compass Players at the University of Chicago, The Second City has grown into an entertainment empire. Producer Jenna Deja offered us a guide to this many-faceted empire.

Second City currently has a presence in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles. In Chicago, its operations include two resident main stages—"The Mothership," as Deja refers to them.

"These shows are totally developed by improvisation," she says. "When Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live comes to town or when The Daily Show comes scouting, these are the shows they see."

There are three year-round touring companies, which serve as a sort of "farm team"; and Second City Theatricals, which originates fully scripted shows utilizing The Second City archives, as well as original material. In addition, there are training centers for the general public, and the audition-based conservatory, geared toward developing professional writers and actors. There's Second City Communications, which designs and facilitates workshops on team-building, communication, ethics and presentations skills for corporations and organizations. Oh, and then there are the comedy revues aboard seven Norwegian Cruise Lines ships.

Empire, indeed.

For Sex and The Second City, Version 2.0, writing team Kirk Hanley and Maribeth Monroe have collaborated to create a show which looks at love and dating in the age of technology. The two have an extensive working relationship dating back to the time when Second City had an operation in Detroit.

Says Hanley, "We were both part of a six-member ensemble, and when we improvised together, we seemed to have a good rapport and a good batting average, frankly. Maribeth approached me and suggested we write something together. So we wrote My Cousin's Wedding, a romantic comedy, and we toured that all over the country. Then during the tour, we wrote Sex and The Second City. Now, years later, some Second City producers asked us to write another show which would look at dating and romance in the 21st century with texting and YouTube-ing and Facebook-ing and all that stuff, and what we came up with is Sex and The Second City, Version 2.0.

Hanley has been working with Second City in various capacities since 1998. He writes and directs for the communications arm and has produced several main-stage shows, including Between Barack and a Hard Place, which, he asserts, "helped get Barack Obama elected president."

Monroe interjects, "Uh, that's a self-proclaimed credit, I believe."

"Well," counters Hanley, "he did actually come see the show when he was a candidate."

Monroe was situated on The Second City main stage in Detroit by the time she graduated from college. "I actually was thrown into being a main-stage performer pretty quickly," she says. She has toured with Second City and performed at other theaters in the Chicago area. In 2006, she moved to Los Angeles, where she does commercials and television.

Hanley's route to the stage took a much-less-direct route. "I was an engineer for Ford and General Motors for 13 years before I quit to join the circus. My jokes didn't go over too well, so I thought it was time to find somebody who could appreciate my dry sense of humor and mistrust of authority."

Hanley and Monroe have been working on Version 2.0 for the last six to eight months. Besides Hanley and Monroe, it features Carisa Barreca and Jimmy Carlson.

"Both Maribeth and I are familiar with The Second City archives (a written record of all the sketches ever created by all branches of the group), and we started there," Hanley says. "We've taken some of those sketches and have changed them to make them fit into the context of this show, which has an entirely different through-line. And then we created some original scenes."

Says Monroe, "We created the world of 'iLove,' a fictitious dating service owned and operated by a character played by Fred Willard, who you see throughout the show. ... He's the online support guide to help with filling out profiles and giving advice or helping match up people for dates. He's the catalyst for all the online-dating scenarios. He appears onscreen—he actually filmed his part in December in Chicago."

Producer Deja says the success of The Second City is due in part to the fact that "the performers themselves are creating the material, and because of the way improvisation works, everything is pure potential."

And the appeal of this show? "It's, at its core, a romantic comedy, but with very fresh takes on romantic-comedy clichés. You actually care about the characters. And Fred Willard is a comedy scientist."

Deja also praises ATC. "They have been such a great partner, last year and now again. They are tremendous to work with. We feel so lucky for their support."

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