Second City is well known as the starting place for a startling number of TV personalities and comedic legends. So when they bring The Best of Second City to the Weidner Center on April 16, you can be assured that isn’t an empty boast. Casey Whitaker was available to tell us just what we can expect from the upcoming showing.
The Scene: What position do you play for the troupe?
Casey: We’re a comedy sketch improv and ensemble. So there’s three girls and three guys. So there’s actors and then we have our musical director and our stage manager who travel with us as well. And I’m one of the actors.
The Scene: Do you have roles? Or is it whatever a specific actor brings to the table when it comes to comedy sketches?
Casey: Yeah, we all trained at second city and IO and all of that. And we audition for the general audition and then what we tour is the archive material from all the main-stage reviews and etc reviews in Chicago that have been [going on] for the last 65 years. So yeah, we’re interpreting the written material that the Stephan Colberts and the Tina Feys wrote.
And then sometimes we do write our own material and do an original sketch. And obviously the improv we make up on the spot. So when you get in [to the ensemble] you get assigned a few of the roles. And you just try to do them justice and maybe add a bit of yourself into it.
The Scene: Now you’re really big on audience participation too aren’t you? It’s not just something where people sit and watch for a couple hours.
Casey: That’s right. I think some people know that and some people don’t. Usually the front area [is called on]. And I think we’re doing a piece now where we just walk out into the house and try to find people for audience participation. Most the time we just have them answer questions to improvise off of. No one gets pulled up and is expected to be funny.
But yes, we do use audience participation a lot.
The Scene: How long have you been at second city, and how is your cast comprised as a whole?
Casey: We’re touring with RedCo. There’s three different touring companies, and we just call them colors to keep them separate. But there’s red, blue and green. My company is RedCo. I’ve been with them, two years in July, full time touring with them. And I was an understudy before that for the touring company. And then in 2011 I did this thing called BenchCo which is the same thing that we’re doing but called BenchCo because you’re kind of on the bench to see if they want to use you further.
The Scene: Sure, how well do you know the rest of the troupe, you said it was three girls and three guys? Are you all fairly similar experience-wise?
Casey: We just got one new girl, Ali just started with us a month ago, but everyone else, we’ve been together for over a year. And I think that’s very clear on stage. We’re all very close and good friends. So when we improvise or even do the scripted material the chemestry is undeniable. We’re a strong unit and everybody knows how to play together well.
The Scene: So who else is touring with the troupe?
Casey: Chelsea Kinney has been there awhile. We call it the triple J’s, Jamison Webb, Jasbir Singh and John Sabine. And then the new girl Ali Barthwell just joined us and she’s great too.
The Scene: Now you mentioned that this show covers the best of Second City’s 60 some year history, do you want to go into that a little bit?
Casey: So yeah, we 56 anniversary of Second City. So we had our 55th anniversary shows earlier in the year near Christmas. I think it’s December 21st or something like that. We choose material from show from all the decades and it’s just such an honor to do the scenes that Rachel Dratch wrote, or whoever we admire personally and getting to do their work.
The Scene: Now do the actors get any input in the scenes you’re choosing?Casey: The running order of the show changes a lot. And once in a while we get to have a wishlist for things we want to try. But at the end of the day our director and producer have the final say on what we put in the show. But there is definitely some conversation with us as to what we want to try. So that’s always nice too.
The Scene: Do you have any personal favorites right now?
Casey: The scenes could change by then. But we just put a scene called Rubanesque, an all female scene with all three ladies where we rap about being women of a fuller body type. So it’s a lot of fun. I love that. I’m personally a fan of any strong female pieces and that is definitely one of those. That’s definitely one of my favorites right now.
And i’m working on a solo song that was actually written on main stage by one of the RedCo alums Chelsea Devantez. It’s called “I Cry” and that was cool because I got to tour with her for six months before she got pulled up to main stage. So that’s always cool because I already got to work with her and look up to her. To get to do her pieces that she wrote in the last year or so on the main stage is very cool.
The Scene: So is there anything that you would like to tell our readers specifically for the upcoming show?
Casey: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a two act sketch and improv show, so it’s not like a typical play. Every two minutes there’s something new that we’re putting up. There’s an improv portion of the show, that’s also really fun and interactive. And we’re just [always] excited to come out there. I want to say my company has been there before. I’m not quite sure. All the tours blend together at some point.
The Scene: Have you been in Green Bay before though?
Casey: I have been personally with my college women’s choir. I don’t think I’ve been there personally with the second city. But yeah Jasbir is a big Green Bay fan, so he’s exited. It’s in his bio, but he’s from the state.
The Scene: So what’s it take before you even get into Second City? Where do you draw from?
Casey: We all kind of came from different backgrounds. Some of us were dance majors, some of us were theater majors. And we were all just kind of drawn to comedy, specifically as a genre of the performing arts. We’re all from different parts of the country, and you kind of move to Chicago and take all the chances you can with your independent teams and try to perform as much as you can to get experience. You just audition and hope that you win the lottery, because the odds are not in your favor. But if you get to do it, it’s just a dream job, and it’s so much fun. You love traveling and doing the shows and meeting new people.