1959: A Theater Is Born

1616 N Wells St Chicago

The Second City
Written By The Second City

We began as a small comedy theater, and have grown to become today’s leading brand in improv-based sketch comedy. With a variety of theaters, training centers and full-time, touring ensembles, you can find us all over the world. And we have more than a handful of successful Second City alum that we aren’t too modest to mention, like Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Bill Murray, and Keegan-Michael Key.

The Path To The Second City

It was a snowy Chicago night when Paul Sills, Howard Alk, and Bernie Sahlins opened The Second City on December 16, 1959. But that's not where the story begins. Refining and mastering the improv games developed by his mother Viola Spolin, Sills developed a core group of like-minded University of Chicago friends and artists devoted to the new art form.

Determined to bring improv to the masses, Sills created The Playwright’s Theatre Club in 1953. It became the starting point for many famous actors and comedians at the time, including Elaine May, Ed Asner, Mike Nichols, and Barbara Harris.

Sills again worked with many of these performers when he created The Compass Players in 1955. The Compass Players performed improvised plays based on the outlines created from the cast members themselves and were met with success.

By 1958, several of the cast members had moved on to other projects. However, Sills had faith that The Compass Players' model could be refined. One year later, the theater doors opened to The Second City, whose self-mocking name came from the title of a 'New Yorker' article about Chicago. Admission was $1.50, and Sills and Sahlins flipped burgers in the kitchen.

Today, The Second City gives

Cover photo by @secondcitychitc via Instagram.

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The Second City: The First Name in Comedy

1959: A Theater Is Born

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