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Our Story

Our Story

It all started with children’s games. During the 1920s and 30s, Viola Spolin was working as a social worker at Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago, where her job was to help immigrant children better assimilate into their new surroundings.

Spolin created a number of improvisational games that gave the children hands-on experience at behaving collaboratively and empathetically. Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, was enamored by the games and taught them to his University of Chicago friends, where the true potential of these games to develop material and entertain audiences was uncovered. The Second City opened its doors on a snowy Chicago night in December of 1959 and has been entertaining sold-out audiences ever since.

Over the last fifty-seven years, Second City’s unique way of fostering talent has cultivated generation after generation of the world’s most iconic comedians, actors, writers, directors and leaders. Somewhere along the way, we started noticing something surprising. When CEOs, marketers, learning officers and educators gave our methods a try, the results were undeniable–the very fundamentals that created stars on stage also created stars in the business world. It wasn’t crazy; it was a pattern, and it was happening over and over and over.

Today, Second City finds itself back where it all began–at The University of Chicago–as part of an exclusive partnership with the Center for Decision Research at The Booth School of Business. The scientific objective? To research behavioral science through the lens of improvisation, allowing further development of our vast trove of executive education programs steeped in the ever-adaptable (and unabashedly fun) principles of improv.

Simply put, we make work better.

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Who We Are

Facie Chiwanza

Account Director

From initial contact to final execution I continuously strive to co-create with our clients and internal teams. The open dialogue results in the work being enjoyable and it is where I find the most success.

Elizabeth Howard

Vice President of Client Services

Humor = truth + surprise. We laugh, because we find what is happening to be relatable - which can be surprising. Recognizing ourselves in situations shows us that it's part of the human experience. Laughing releases tension and let's us move forward.

Marilyn Cox

Vice President of Marketing and CRM

I work with a bunch of failures. I work for an organization that fails time and again. And I say they’re failures with the greatest admiration, not just because I count myself as one, but because they’ve built an institution on the premise of failure.

Mike Foster

Content Producer

"I've got your back" isn't just a saying, it's a solid belief that everyone at Second City is supported for taking risks! It's a culture of stepping up and beyond what's expected while celebrating very effort to explore possibility!

Kelly Leonard

Executive Director of Insights and Applied Improvisation

Improvisation is yoga for your social skills; it's loud group mindfulness; at it's core, improvisation is practice in being a better human being.

Andrew James

Account Manager

Improv prepares you for what you cannot prepare for. The most rewarding thing about working at The Second City, is being able to watch all sorts of people realize this and unlock potential they never knew they had.

Mark Sutton

Artistic Director of Learning and Development

The thing I love most about improvisation is that it's all about looking forward and not back. It's about possibility and not regret.

Mark Burns

Creative Project Manager

It's far more effective to discover what's funny or engaging than to invent it. Improv is about being present - ditching your agenda, listening, and welcoming change. By definition, discovery means you didn't know the outcome when you first started.

Kathy Finley

Account Director

Simply becoming aware and applying of the basics of improv has greatly improved the quality of my communication at work and at home. My family says "Thank you Second City Works, thank you!"

Katlin Hall

Account Manager

I develop action and help others develop action by believing everything you tell me, saying yes, and building upon your idea. I know building upon idea's works to develop action because we've built an institution on the premise of saying Yes, And.

Frankie Solomon

Account Director

Constantly starting with "No" is such a bummer. What kind of way is that to live, when you can choose to build together? Culture is just a collection of habits. Improv is a great way to practice the best habits possible. Agree, build, support, and work as an ensemble. That's how I want to live.

Kristy West

Account Director

There are people who prefer to say 'yes' and there are people who prefer to say 'no'. Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain. Keith Johnstone