Chicago’s iconic Second City has vowed to “tear it all down and begin again.”
The improv comedy institution was rocked by allegations that it fostered a racist culture. Andrew Alexander, the theater’s longtime executive producer and CEO, stepped down on June 5, saying he had “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive.”
The next day, The Second City promoted Artistic Director Anthony LeBlanc to the role of interim executive director. The theater also made commitments to change.
LeBlanc is still living in Los Angeles, where he was working as an acting coach for Nickelodeon before the pandemic led to a cessation of not only theater, but also TV production. He sees the job as one that requires him to both address the complexity of the challenge and continue to engage his colleagues — the actors, writers, directors, teachers, stage managers and administrations of the theater — on an individual level, understanding their perspectives and passion as artists. He hopes to be back in Chicago soon.
Change at The Second City has so far been swift. By June 9, actor/director/writer Dewayne Perkins — whose Twitter call out of Alexander for not supporting a Black Lives Matter fundraiser unless half of the proceeds went to the Chicago Police Department led to Alexander’s resignation — along with a number of other Black alum working on shows including “Saturday Night Live,” wrote a letter to The Second City demanding concrete changes. Those included calls for the hiring of an outside HR firm, a BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) owned diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) firm, and creating a committee that will include current BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual and Ally community) employees to hire the full-time executive producer.
On June 11, The Second City issued a letter promising to meet all of the demands. Since then, they have hired Vantage Solutions, an HR consulting firm, to review allegations of racism, brought in Dr. Christal Morris as their DEI partner, and are building the steering committee.
“I’m aware that it’s a thing, being a Black person at Second City for 17 years — comedy is a rich white person’s world as it has existed,” said LeBlanc. “I’ve been one of the only two Black people on the schedule at iO for a long period of time.” (iO, or ImprovOlympic, recently closed amid allegations of racist practices and the challenges of making rent during the pandemic shutdown.)
“There is the challenge of keeping Second City alive, and keep the theater running, both in terms of being safe during the pandemic, and profitable, but also in making the changes that are long overdue,” LeBlanc said. “It is a difficult balancing act, but it’s the right thing to do.”