Happy 16th Anniversary!

Mya Gosling, aka GoodTickleBrain, joins us to celebrate the 16th anniversary of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast, new episodes of which have dropped weekly since early December, 2006. Mya interviews producer/host Austin Tichenor, who discusses the podcast’s origins and evolution; the greatest gift the podcast has turned into; how it was partially inspired by physical media; how much of a Shakespearean he was to begin with (and how much of one he’s become); how the RSC’s shows evolved into longer narratives; and the fun of filling existing spaces with your own stories. (Length 26:18) (Stick-figure Mya and Austin courtesy of Mya Gosling/GoodTickleBrain. Used by permission.)

Adam Felber: Memoirist

Improviser, novelist, TV writer, podcast host, panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and now memoirist Adam Felber is the co-author, with Charles Band, of Confessions of a Puppetmaster: A Hollywood Memoir of Ghouls, Guts, and Gonzo Filmmaking, and he discusses the extraordinary life he’s helped document; how he makes sure his writing is entertaining; his foray into the multi-podcast-verse; how his career has progressed in ways he didn’t anticipate; the futility of thinking one can “win” showbiz; the rewards of jamming with local dads; his ongoing adventures in writing for television; and, ultimately, how a bullshitter knows a bullshitter. FEATURING: a special appearance from Mr. Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me himself, Peter Sagal! (Length 17:09)

Teaching During Quarantine

Two Northwestern University professors — Cindy Gold (above, right) from the Theater department and Dee Ryan (above, bottom left) from the Radio, Film, and Television department — talk about how their classes and teaching methods changed and evolved over the fifteen months of the COVID pandemic. Featuring the reinvention of mask work; cancelled performances and career opportunities; being an adorable drunk; how many students got COVID (surprisingly few); being paralyzed by fear (not of COVID, but of technology); spectacular threshing metaphors; a mention of and appearance by Jill Talley (the voice of Karen from SpongeBob SquarePants); and the incredible value of Zoom’s Chat feature. (Length 20:58)

Everything Is Theatre

Richard ET White is the former artistic director of the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago, and the outgoing and longest-serving chair of the Cornish College of the Arts Theatre Department in that institution’s 103-year-old history. Richard was also an acting and directing teacher at the University of California Drama Department where many RSC members got their early training. RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor talks with his former professor about how theatre can be anything and everywhere; how comedy about serious issues from the San Francisco Mime Troupe became life-changing; the influence of Richard Schechner and the Performance Group; sneering at prosceniums; what people forget about Brecht; the value of immaturity; the immediacy of improv; the storytelling and performance art of stand-up; being both expansive and inclusive; the value of sharing your lived experience; and how you want theatre to have the visceral impact of a great rock concert. (Length 24:06)

Something Wonderful Now

Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away, an oral history of The Compass Players and Second City was first published in 1978 and it’s arguably still one of the definitive works about the rise of Chicago improvisation and maybe the defining actor training method of the second half of the 20th-century. Jeffrey discusses how the book came to be and talks about his encounters with such greats as Barbara Harris, Sheldon Patinkin, Jules Feiffer, Mike Nichols, Anne Meara, and Elaine May; how specific movies and plays revealed to him a specific style; reveals the joy and wonder of shared realities; what it means to have gotten a B from Martin Scorcese; gives a shout-out to oral history pioneer Studs Terkel; how poverty can be theatre’s friend; how the only two essential elements to theater are actors and audiences (not playwrights!); the devastating truth that playwriting is not literature; and finally, further proof that following your passion can frequently lead you to a career. (Length 20:45)

We Remember ‘Balto’

The animated film Balto celebrated its 25th Anniversary last month, and RSC members Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor played the sidekick sled dogs Nikki, Kaltag, and Star…until they, like most of the cast, were replaced with different actors. Their voices stayed in the film, however, and this week Reed (left, with the statue of Balto in Anchorage, Alaska in 2012) and Austin remember the process of how they got the gig, how it went, and what happened next. A fun and funny remembrance featuring revelations about the film’s original title; having one degree of Balto himself, Kevin Bacon; big thanks to director Simon Wells and producer Steve Hickner; clues to executive producer Steven Spielberg’s changing enthusiasm; shout-out to other film projects we were in (Carry On Columbus, Liquid Television: Dogboy); how animated films are recorded first; a special appearance from our co-star and fellow “extra voice” Mike McShane; and how Balto is, appropriately enough, the perfect pandemic movie. (Length 18:48)

Rachel Dratch Thanksgiving

Old friend (and Thanksgiving bestie) Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) joins us for this very special 14th Anniversary episode! Rachel shares holiday memories; how she’s navigated her career; and reveals who she always associates with Abba’s “Dancing Queen;” the opportunities she’s had and the ones she’s fought for; how she’s drawn to more comedic roles than dramatic ones; how she’s made peace with the uncertainties of an acting career; the creation (with Paula Pell) of Debbie Downer (left); a shout-out to John Cariani and the late lamented Broadway-bound musical Minsky’s!; obscure silver dishes; a very special holiday meet-cute; doing Love’s Labors Lost with Shakespeare in the Park; and the glorious power of mid-level fame! (Length 22:22)

Loud Storytelling Moms

Now in its sixth year, Louder Than A Mom is a monthly storytelling show that celebrates voices you don’t usually get to see or hear. Co-founder Dee Ryan (left) talks about how LTAM evolved and reveals many moments of generosity; her comparisons to Mary Shelley; how she and co-hosts Kate Hill and Erin McEvoy Mason create their ever-growing community (first in person and now online); how we all miss gathering at LTAM’s regular location, Martyr’s in Chicago; how they always give space to newbie storytellers; threading the needle of funny and moving; how art shouldn’t be competitive; becoming more political; and how there are always new stories to tell and new voices to hear from. (Length 16:34) 

Here Are Frangela

Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton, better known as Frangela, host the essential funny political podcast The Final Word and this Saturday night September 26, 2020, are performing as part of Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Virtual Tour, appearing right in your living room (on your computer)! Frances and Angela talk about how they joined comedy forces and share tips about the importance of using your voices; bringing the funny to the people; mutual Second City origins; memories of the TBS pilot The Week Reduced; the myth of world hunger; finding comic angles; possible spoilers to Star Trek: Discovery, the valuable bond of having opinions about everything; the importance of remembering that we have options and things don’t need to be this way; and the cathartic release of breaking crockery. (Length 22:04)

Directing Sketch Shows

Like many theaters in Chicago, Second City shut down on March 13, 2020, the same day we were scheduled to chat with actor, writer, and improviser Frank Caeti, who was directing their current production. We kept our appointment and recorded this interview with the Second City alum anyway, thinking we’d post it once everything re-opened “in a few weeks”. Ha! Nonetheless, enjoy this fascinating conversation about the process of creating a sketch show out of nothing, and listen as Frank shares Bull Durham analogies; how a director acts as a head writer; the importance of compassion, empathy, and understanding; the value of group ownership; being patient as ideas go from half-baked to more fully-baked; embracing relative autonomy; gives shout-outs to institutional memory; the endurance required for encore late-night sets; the importance of audience feedback and the uncertainty of not knowing when we might get it again; and finally, the challenge of getting used to not touching your face and how philosophers are really the forgotten victims during this pandemic. (Length 23:17) (Pictured: Frank Caeti, left, with Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) in The Second City’s Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Craig Schwartz.)

Appreciating Viola Spolin

Aretha Sills discusses her grandmother, the legendary Viola Spolin, who invented an entire discipline and whose book Improvisation for the Theater is a fundamental text for generations of theatre artists. Viola’s son (and Aretha’s father) Paul Sills took Viola’s teachings “to the world,” where they became the foundation for more than sixty years of American acting and comedy. Aretha discusses Viola’s early training with Neva Boyd at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and with the Group Theatre in New York; early exposure to opera from her policeman father; how Viola’s work inspired the Playwright’s Theatre, the Compass Players, and Second City; the value of Spolin’s theatre games in de-colonizing authoritarian teaching methods; and the importance of understanding and honoring the origins of this work (play). (Length 22:47) (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Viola Spolin, www.violaspolin.org.)

Standup Vs. Improv

Liz Allen is an improviser and teacher who, among other things, coached the improv team in Mike Birbiglia’s film Don’t Think Twice. Liz’s trip to the Mayo Clinic became an existential crisis that caused her to reflect on her work and career, and she shares with us her revelations about angels on earth, comedy with a purpose, misdiagnoses, spontaneous jokes, enriching laughs, weird complications, having a face for comedy, surviving a long night of the soul, embracing life lessons, coaching movie actors, the surprising spiritual element of joke-telling, and best of all: solid endocrine humor! (Length 20:10)

Episode 555. The Improv Nerd

”Jimmy Carrane is an improviser, teacher, and creator/host of “The Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane” Podcast, and last week he sat down with me on a beautiful Chicago morning to chat with me about his improv and performing philosophies. Featuring great teaching tools, the value of details and specificity vs. frantic Read more…

Episode 533. Matt Croke’s Memoir

”Old friend Matthew Croke discusses his newly-published memoir Yes, And…: A Journey of Hope Through Tragedy, which begins with the discovery that his wife Lisa’s cancer has returned while she’s pregnant with their third daughter. During this time, Matt kept a journal which became an up-close and personal account of what friends and family said Read more…

Episode 511. Improvising Jane Austen

Rachel Parris (from BBC’s The Mash Report) is one of the performers in Austentatious: The Improvised Jane Austen Novel, which performs in London, Edinburgh, and around the UK, and she talks about how one goes about improvising this beloved British author. She also discusses creating her one-woman show “Best-Laid Plans” and Read more…

Episode 506. Shakespeare In China

”In July 2016, we taught theatre workshops and directed a reduced version of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Beijing, China. Hosted by Tin House Productions, who is producing our three-week Chinese tour later this year, we worked with a fantastic group of kids as well as (for one night) a large group of Read more…

Episode 466. Creating ‘Improv Zombies’

”Creating shows using improv is not something the RSC does, but Reed Martin has used the Second City model to devise with his students a new show called Improv Zombies From Hell at Napa Valley College. With one weekend left in the run, Reed talks about how the show came together, using Read more…

Episode 431. TJ And Dave

”You may not have heard of them but TJ & Dave are the gods of improvisation, and they’ve written a book about what they do called Improvisation at the Speed of Life. Dave Pasquesi (who you may recognize from the films Groundhog Day and Angels and Demons, or as Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’s ex-husband on Veep), talks Read more…

Episode 425. UK Comedy Openings

”After a long week of tech and a weekend of opening performances, our 81-city UK tour of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) is finally underway. Actors Gary Fannin, Matt Pearson, Andrew Hodges, and Steven Rostance talk about the process that got us here, the things we learned, and the fears Read more…

Episode 372. There’s Always One

”Even in the middle of a hugely successful run like we had at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (where our production of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) sold more single tickets than any production in their 2014-2015 season except for A Christmas Carol), there will be at least one Read more…

Episode 370. Meeting Mike McShane

Let’s ring in the new year with an old friend! Improv legend (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and TV (Doctor Who; Brotherly Love) and film (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; A Bug’s Life) veteran Mike McShane talks about his wildly eventful life and shares tales about the differences between improv Read more…