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It’s not just laughs at The Second City

By |2007-08-16T09:00:00-04:00August 16th, 2007|Entertainment|

NOVI – When executives at the Chicago offices of The Second City went searching for a new producing artistic director for their Detroit theater, it’s doubtful the want ad read, “Looking for a musician and filmmaker, improviser and student of philosophy” – but that’s what they got when they hired Plymouth resident Nate DuFort for the job. And now, just a week shy of his first anniversary in that position, an exhausted DuFort sits in his office and completes yet one more task related to the opening of the theater’s 30th revue, “Night of the Living Debt,” on Aug.15. The hours have been dreadfully long and the days off few and far between, but DuFort has found his niche – and he couldn’t be happier. “I think that bringing someone that’s creative into the producer’s role was pretty risky,” he said after approving artwork for the show. “But as of right now, I think it’s a risk that’s starting to pay off.”
Many would agree. Under his watch, the theater’s Training Center has grown to 160 students – and into a new space in Novi just a brief walk from his office. He’s also increased the number of shows the theater produces each year – and with that has come a jump in attendance. Plus – according to some – the shows have gotten funny again, with sharper writing and far less dependency on naughty words to mine cheap laughs.
But there’s one area with which DuFort, who first came to Second City in 1999 as a student, is most pleased. “The talent development is a huge triumph for me.”

The SC Perspective
What ultimately makes it or breaks it for many aspiring improvisers is this: Do they bring a “Second City Perspective” to their work?
“As opposed to a lot of other improvisation where the main goal is to keep people laughing, Second City has been called a ‘temple of satire,” DuFort explained. “We feel that responsibility, and now it’s part of our corporate branding.”
In fact, what many people expect from a Second City main stage production is comedy mixed with the news of the day. “It’s the immediacy of it. There are so many things happening in our world, and being able to comment on them and put our opinions on stage is incredibly important to me,” DuFort said.
Creating a new show isn’t all fun and games, however.
The process begins several weeks before opening night. For “Night of the Living Debt,” the cast started work the Tuesday after “Michigan Impossible: All Laid Off & No Place To Go” closed; the next night, they staged a preview performance that was mostly “Michigan Impossible,” but with a smattering of new material. “Over the eight-week rehearsal process, those scenes are slowly replaced by new scenes, new ideas and a lot of improvisation every night,” DuFort explained.
The new show takes shape only a week before its official opening. “By the time the scene transitions are added, final music and final lighting (are worked out), opening night will be the first night that that show has ever existed.”

SC expands
On average, The Second City Detroit has staged one-and-a-half shows per year. With a growing audience clamoring for more, DuFort has expanded the season to two original main stage shows and an annual holiday show.
Also this year, students from the Training Center’s graduate program will stage a Second City Alternative Show beginning Oct. 7. Under the direction of Pj Jacokes, the show will feature many of the areas best up-and-coming young improvisers. “It’s a homerun from the git-go,” DuFort smiled.
Then in November, “City Limits” will debut, tentatively planned to run Sunday and Tuesday nights. The half-scripted/half-improv show will find its humor in local politics. “It’ll be fun, because there will be a lot of audience participating in it,” DuFort said.
But that’s not all. A broad range of Alternative Shows are in various stages of development, as well as several shows that will run only one or two performances. Wednesday nights will soon become a potpourri of rotating programs, and at the end of each eight-week term, Training Center students will produce and stage shows of their own.
Looking back over his first year on the job, DuFort – he’s his toughest critic – is fairly pleased. “I have tons of goals, and I’m meeting half of them. But there’s only so many hours in the day,” he chuckled.

PREVIEW:
‘Night of the Living Debt’
The Second City Detroit, 42705 Grand River Ave., Novi. Every Wed.-Sun. Tickets: $15-$20. For information: 248-348-4448 or http://www.secondcity.com

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