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The Second City Trap

February 19, 2014

Chicago has a lot to be proud of. More television shows are shooting here. There’s a fantastic theatre scene. And the improv community always has something going on. With that, there’s one big name that everyone in Chicago knows about, actor or not: Second City.

I couldn’t wait to get involved with Second City. I assumed that taking a class with them was vital to moving my career forward. As soon as I had the money, I signed up for their popular “Improv for Actors” (IFA) program.

It did not disappoint.

Second City Status backup

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I learned that upon completing the IFA program, I was eligible to audition for the Second City Conservatory Program. IFA was two months. Conservatory is a year long commitment. While improv wasn’t what I was planning on pursuing, I thought that this would be a huge stepping stone in my career, leading to countless opportunities. Plus a big resume booster. So I auditioned.

I wasn’t expecting much. I was quite surprised when I got my results.

Conservatory Results

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Though admittedly, this part got my attention.

Received this message in error

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Luckily, it was not sent to me in error. I was in!

A few months later, the honeymoon phase was over and I was several hundred dollars poorer. I was able to see things a little more clearly. These things in particular were standing out:

-I wasn’t good at improv and I wasn’t making progress.

-The program was geared towards creating your own sketch show.

And here’s the biggest one:

The time I was spending learning improv meant less time doing theatre, which is what I really wanted to be doing.

After six months, I endured another set of auditions, spent more money, and even less time doing theatre. Oh, and I still wasn’t good at improv. It was pretty apparent that this program wasn’t for me. I sadly told my class that level three would be my last one.

I’m sharing this story with you because all actors need to be careful of what I’m going to call, “The Second City trap.” Regardless of where you’re pursuing your career, there are going to be these bright, shiny objects that look like they’re going to help you. In reality, they actually make you fall further from your goals. This is tricky. It’s different than those things that make you fall off track from acting in general. Such as a survival job that won’t allow you to attend auditions or rehearsals. The Second City trap refers to acting related activities that aren’t actually moving you toward your personal acting goals.

I also want to address my fellow Chicago thesbians: Please don’t confuse my message. If your goal is to do improv, Second City should absolutely be on your list of places to take classes (though don’t forgot iO and Annoyance!) But if you’re looking to brush up your improv skills to apply them to theatre or film, maybe just take one or two classes on improv instead of a yearlong program. I certainly don’t want you to avoid Second City if you’re extremely eager to go there. However, I’ve seen too many actors make the same mistake I did with the Conservatory.

Quick side note: If you’re having trouble narrowing down your goals, I highly recommend getting involved with Dallas Travers. She’s fantastic in this area. And all areas, let’s be serious.

Keep on taking those classes, actors! Just be sure you know what your goals are.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2014 12:14 pm

    I agree! I LOVED my 2nd City experience so much. I wanted to learn how to improvise to help my on-camera and improv career. I learned a lot and had so much fun. When it came time for conservatory auditions, I’ll admit, I got sucked in and wanted to get a yes for the sake of significance and “succeeding”. I didn’t get in, and I’m so glad. Improv and sketch was not a priority of mine and it was going to take me away from my husband, my acting career and my money 🙂 I am thankful now that I didn’t get in, but at the time my ego was hurt!

  2. Shells permalink
    July 20, 2016 4:49 pm

    I stumbled on this post (and blog) and want to agree with you and say you’ve encapsulated my thoughts. I’m doing Improv for Actors, but I don’t have any ambition to do the conservatory. I do find the tools we are practicing very helpful: for listening to your partners and being more free in your playing. Glad to find others on the same wavelength and getting some reassurance from like minds! Thanks!

    • July 21, 2016 11:44 am

      Hey there Shells!

      Given how long ago I wrote this post, your comment came as a pleasant surprise! Thank you for reading 🙂 I agree that there’s a lot of value in taking improv classes even if you’re not looking to pursue improv. I think it’s great you know your focus and are committed to your path.

      Hope our paths cross in Chicago!


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