Julie Dumais Osborne is the Artistic Director for the Second City Training Centre and was the one responsible for the gargantuan task of moving all classes online last year.
Prior to the pandemic, the idea of a virtual improv acting class would have been a tough sell. With so many sketches being physical—surely actors need to be on stage together?! But with no choice but to try, they did, and have been delightfully surprised by just how successful the classes have been.
Between Second City Toronto, Chicago and L.A., there are currently 22 different types of classes being offered, with 12 subjects being offered on-demand. The breadth of offerings if as impressive for kids, including summer camp programs that are quickly filling up.
We connected with Julie to discuss how the company has transitioned, and why taking a class is a great idea, whether you want to be a comedian or not.
What has surprised you about moving the school online? Has it worked better than you anticipated?
Maybe the most amazing thing about our online move is how quickly it happened. In less than a week, our incredible team & faculty figured out how to take something that we’d really only ever done in person – in rooms full of people – into a virtual setting. There was a lot of pushing through early feelings of: “No way. You can’t do this improv game online! It won’t work!” to quickly get to: “Hey! Wait a minute! What if we try it like this….? Oh wow! It DOES work!”
There’ve been a lot of lovely surprises along the way. For one, we’re working collaboratively with the Chicago and Hollywood Training Centres in ways we were never able to before – and with no geographical restrictions, our classes now welcome students from all over the world. Even when it’s safe to get back to in-person learning, we’re never going to stop offering these online options.
What’s your pitch, in terms of what Second City classes can offer, beyond improving as a comedian?
I can’t think of a more welcomed break from non-stop doomscrolling, lonely quarantining and general angst than getting in a virtual room with a bunch of other people and having a couple of hours of pure, joyful escapism, laughs & human connection.
What class has worked particularly well in a virtual format?
Improv for Anxiety has been incredibly popular. This unending state of lockdown has taken such a huge toll on everyone’s mental health and general feeling of wellbeing. There’s a lot of overlap between good improv and mindfulness – being present in the moment, taking in all that is immediately at hand, really listening before responding. Students are really loving this gentle outlet.
What are some springtime offerings you’re excited about?
Our Acting program has just been redesigned and the early feedback has been fantastic. We’ve refocused the curriculum with the skills & principles of improvisation at the core and we’re drawing scripts from Second City’s vast archives for text-based work later in the program. It lines up so well with the work we do onstage now… giving improvisers and comedians the tools they need to be better, more present, more emotionally-connected actors in a comedic performance setting.
How badly do you miss the stage right now? Is this something that is discussed often between performers?
So badly. And not just the stage. We’re aching just to be in classrooms, green rooms, offices & hallways together. And yes… we talk about it a lot.
Check out the full roster of Second City programming here, and push yourself to try something new!