'SNL' Star Fey Retu rns To Comedy Roots
By John Bylander
Cavalier Daily Senior Editor
Improvisation is an art form that has gained a respected place in the international lexicon of comedy. It is a training ground for actors and comedians that tests their spontaneity and their ability to get a laugh out of just about any situation. In addition to pushing the limits of young actors, improv also has become a legitimate form of theater in its own right, entertaining crowds the world over. And if there is a birthplace for this theatrical tradition, it is Chicago's Second City Theatre, which makes its way to the University this week for a series of workshops and free performances.
What began in the 1950s as a few Chicago drama students with a yen for improvisation and satire has become one of the most recognized names in American and Canadian theater. In addition to the original theater in Chicago, The Second City has theaters in Toronto and Detroit, all of which have served as conduits to stardom on stage, in TV and film. Second City's list of alumni spans several generations, and includes such "Saturday Night Live" stars as John Belushi, Tim Meadows, Mike Myers and Gilda Radner and also "The Daily Show'"s Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.
In addition to two performances, the group's weeklong stay will feature improv workshops with University students (sorry, the workshops are already closed). Second year College student Jamie Costello, a member of The Whethermen, the University's improv comedy group, will be one of those in attendance.
Second City Theater
At the Culbreth Fri., Jan 26 - Sat., Jan 27 8:00 pm
"I know [The Whethermen] are all very excited," Costello said. "We workshopped with them at the Chicago Improv Festival last year, but just to have them come here is really exciting."
The touring company is usually where newer members hone their skills for the main theater in Chicago. Past touring performers included "Saturday Night Live" alums Bill Murray, Chris Farley and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But one of next week's performers already is far beyond the beginner stage: Tina Fey, a University graduate who now is head writer, and a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," or "SNL."
"Tina was in a lot of shows," recalled Drama Prof. Betsy Tucker, who was one of Tina's professors during her time at the University. She recalls one in particular, a First Year Players production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" which Tucker called a "wonderful, radical production" with a "cross-gender, cross-racial cast. I believe everyone from that group has gone on to success in the theater."
After graduation, Fey traveled to Chicago with the hope of acting with Second City. "[The city of] Chicago is basically where improvisation became articulated in America," Tucker said. Fey became a performer/writer with the group and later joined a long list of Second City performers to join "Saturday Night Live."
Perhaps one reason for the show's improvement is Tina's promotion to head writer at "SNL" in 1999. Significantly, she is the first female head writer in the show's 25-year history. Fey penned such sketches as the recurring spoof of "The View" and "Sully and Denise," about two Boston teenagers. She now has made her way in front of the camera, earning raves as co-anchor of the "Weekend Update" sketch with Jimmy Fallon, who visited the University last year.
The Second City troupe will perform shows on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the U.Va. Box Office, free for students and for faculty and the public. Seeing these up-and-coming masters of improv theater for free is guaranteed comedy, but to miss this golden opportunity would be nothing short of a tragedy.