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Casting Talent at The Second City


By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation

When Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Amy Sedaris were on The Second City Mainstage in Chicago, Adam McKay, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit and Tina Fey were in the Touring Company of The Second City. Clearly, if there’s one thing that Second City is known for it’s the wealth of incredibly talented people that have gotten their start on its stages.

Casting at The Second City is hugely important and at the risk of demystifying the process, I recently sat down with Beth Kligerman at her office on Wells Street in Chicago – with its impressive wall of headshots for every performer currently under contract with Second City. Beth’s current title is Director of Talent and Talent Development. But in the mid 90’s, Beth and I were Producer and Associate Producer for The Second City – responsible for hiring the talent into The Second City system and fostering their growth through the touring companies and onto one of our resident stages.

Prior to our arrival on the scene, Second City was not known for having the most friendly auditions. “I remember that it was really important for us to change the culture of the casting experience at Second City,” Beth recalled. “We wanted to make sure everyone felt supported and could have as much fun as possible given how stressful the experience can be.”

Instrumental to those efforts was when Mick Napier agreed to help run the auditions at Second City. A renowned director and teacher, Mick was well aware of the dubious reputation of Second City’s audition process – earned or otherwise – and felt it was important to change the tone and manner in which we welcomed the talent to audition for us.

“Making the audition experience supportive and affirming was the first step and Mick was instrumental to that end. But we also started actively scouting talent outside of Second City: going to people’s shows at other theatres and seeing them in their own element.” Beth went on, “Even if we never hired these people. It became important to understand that mentoring talent doesn’t mean that everyone has to work for The Second City.”

So this point is key.

If you want to attract the best talent, you can’t just be focused on “your” talent. This is especially true of the generation that is entering the workforce right now. Talent-friendly environments are rich in mentorship, collaboration and opportunities to stretch beyond traditional boundaries.

Beth and I talked a bit about the current generation of performers coming up at Second City right now. “They will talk and engage. They are passionate and thoughtful in their beliefs. There is a deep sense of altruism in this generation that I don’t feel was as important for the talent in years gone by,” she offered.

I’m really working hard here not to use the “M” word. As the writer John Green recently noted: “The world ‘millennial,’ as a descriptor of a demographic group, was coined by two men born just after World War II. Generation X named themselvesGeneration X. Millennials were named by Baby Boomers.”

Ultimately, you have to go meet the talent where they are – both actually and figuratively. Beth is out and about seeing performers at stages as tiny as a living room night after night. She invites talent to her office to talk about their creative wants and needs. It’s not a one way street.

And this doesn’t mean that you have to coddle talent. Sometimes true mentorship means you challenge those you believe in to do better or to do different. But what you have to be is present.

Present to see; present  to hear; present to engage; present to inspire; present to receive.

Talent thrives in presence. 

Build real connections with empathy,  learning and development,  talent development,  teamwork


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