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DePaul Second City students find new places to laugh

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Chicago firefighters battle a fire at the intersection of North and Wells in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Chicago firefighters battle a fire at the intersection of North and Wells in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The legendary Second City Theater — highly praised for its comedy performances and classes — was threatened by a fire that broke out Aug. 26 in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. Although the fire itself was eventually contained and put out, the damage that it left behind continues to affect both the students and the faculty of The Second City. Many students have had to relocate or alter their schedules due to the fire.

In addition to the damage to the building, four firefighters and a worker in the building were injured by the intense three-alarm fire, though all were listed to be in stable condition. Firefighters were able to diverge the water and protect the performance space from any major damage, although the theater’s offices sustained some damage and water more than a foot high filled the floor above the theater.

The Second City opened its doors in the winter of 1959. Although it initially started out as a small cabaret theater, it grew into one of the most influential and widely known comedic spaces in the world. It has been home to many notable performers, including Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Bill Murray.

Lincoln Rzonca, a DePaul student from Tempe, Arizona, has been training at The Second City since June. He said that the fire hasn’t had a terribly negative effect on the performers and the staff.

“I don’t think anything can bring down the morale of the members at The Second City. Last time I was out there was about two days after the fire, and the staff members were doing their thing outside like nothing happened. They were so happy, I almost forgot there was a fire,” Rzonca said.

However, some students have experienced the aftermath of the fire more than others. Many have been relocated to Tribeca Flashpoint College, a media and arts school located in the Loop. Megan Ramirez, a sophomore at DePaul who has been part of The Second City for a few years, said that the fire has affected her classes quite a bit.

“At Tribeca, they stuck us in this really dull and stuffy computer classroom. It just changed the energy of the class, and a lot of people didn’t even show up to class because of it,” Ramirez said. “But training at Second City is so much fun. You meet all of these fun people and form a mini family for the duration of the class.”

Although the repercussions of the fire have proven difficult for many students to deal with, they are still hopeful and upbeat about the situation. Meghan Sullivan, who is part of Columbia College’s Comedy Studies program this semester, has been taking classes at The Second City since 2012. Sullivan said that for the past three weeks, her performances have been in different locations. This can make it difficult for actors, as blocking—the process of determining the precise placement of actors in order to facilitate the performance—for a specific venue is part of the rehearsal process.

“I’ve found the traveling to be pretty fun. No one else has gotten to do it this way and while stressful, it’s been a unique and educational experience to re-block everything an hour before the show,” Sullivan said. “Last week, our director had never seen the space we would be performing in until 10 minutes before the start, which was very fun.”

Along with her peers, Sullivan was the one of the first students to be allowed back in the building. She said that anything with damage has been covered up, and that everything was in good condition apart from a few minor setbacks, such as some electronic damage.

“Being in the building this week has been spooky, but everyone is so happy to be there,” Sullivan said. “It makes you really appreciate the space and the people that it is made up of. The support of the community has been wild. It makes me want to cry thinking about it.”

UP Comedy Club will start performances again on Sept. 22 and the ETC Theater’s “Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?” will begin performances on Sept. 24. The Second City reopened its Mainstage Theater Sept. 17 and will give a special performance for the Chicago Fire Department while continuing their regular schedule throughout the week.

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DePaul Second City students find new places to laugh