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The Second City Strikes

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Dad: Okay, kiddo, bedtime.
Daughter: But Daddy, I wanna stay up and watch TV.
Dad: Sorry, sweetheart, it's a school night.
Daughter: Um...strike.
Dad: Ooooooooh right---Let's watch Conan!

This was not just any Second City show. Joining main-stage actors for a spirted game of freeze tag were the company's administrative assistants, instructors, bartenders, and scores of CPS students improvising their little hearts out.

With all the hullabaloo, it's easy to overlook one of the most striking features of last week's strike: In my stormy, husky, brawling City of Big Shoulders, community members, faith leaders, parents, and neighbors came together to support our kids, the only ones truly shafted by this grown-up mess. From park districts to libraries to not-for-profits to private homes -- almost every kid in this increasingly dangerous city had a safe place to ride out the strike. And because the near-bankrupt Chicago Transit Authority offered free rides to every CPS student, some 400,000 kids could even get there.

Thanks to the generosity of my fine city, my two kids hopped the #151 bus to Old Town (by themselves!) where they played improv games and studied sketch comedy at the Second City all day long. For free.

Crazy, huh? On Tuesday, Second City CEO Andrew Alexander walked into a staff meeting and declared: "All hands on deck -- We need to do this!" Less than 24 hours later, Andrew's team had assembled dozens of instructors for an impromptu CTU Strike Camp. Overhead from one lucky 11-year old: "Wow. This is the best strike ever!"

So, while politicians and pundits debate the real-life implications of Click Clack Moo Chicago style, here are the seven Improv principles some 50-plus CPS students learned at the Second City Strike Camp, lessons that will serve them well, both on stage and off (ahem, Rahm...Karen...you might want to grab a #2 pencil):

  • Yes, and... Saying 'no' is verboten; obstructionists are scum. A yes-man may boost your confidence, but he doesn't add much. You must move the scene forward.
  • Teamwork. As any Chicagoans who has helped a neighbor shovel-out his car after a blizzard can attest: We are all in it together. No grandstanding.
  • Honesty. Be true to your character. Own it. Midwestern integrity is a value.
  • Confidence. Don't waste time second-guessing. Sometimes your choices won't be popular -- the hard ones seldom are.
  • Empathy. To feel for your teammates, you must truly listen -- and that's hard (harder still if you don't make eye contact).
  • No Judgment. No bulling, no mocking, no exclusion, no cliques. Be respectful.
  • Laughter. Humorless people are exhausting. Have fun. Be Generous. Laugh hard.

In what has been a gut-wrenching experience for everyone, for all of it, I love, love, love my city. Fingers crossed this strikes ends soon. From the great Mark Twain: "Chicago -- a city where they are always rubbing a lamp, and fetching up the genii, and contriving and achieving new impossibilities." Monday is a new day.

No need to wait for next year's inevitable strike over teacher pensions; The Second City offers exceptional programming for children year-round, including extended day camps during school breaks.