Getting to Yes, And

Jeffrey Sweet: Something Wonderful Right Away


Jeffrey Sweet

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Kelly sits down with playwright and author Jeffrey Sweet to discuss the new edition of his legendary book "Something Wonderful Right Away," an oralhistory of The Second City.

Because Second City builds its shows based on the news of the day, I wonder if the actor’s role here is more civic than people would think?

“It's got something to do with the place of the actor and society. The Second City takes the actor back to the position of being a kind of de facto journalist, responding immediately to what's going on in the world. Years ago, I had a conversation with the old Western writer, Louis L’Amour, and he was talking about how native Americans, when they came back from a hunt or a battle, knew that it was part of their responsibility to get up in front of their community. They didn't have any written language, so they weren’t going to send out a newsletter. They'd get up in front of their community and they would re-enact the hunts or the battle. I think theater is connected to journalism and the actor was society's original journalist.”

You include an interview with Viola Spolin, the mother of improvisation, that didn’t appear in previous editions of the book. She was such an inventive force and that comes across in the conversation.

"What Viola did was to take that idea of playing games and invent new games in order to address a directorial problem she had working with kids. She didn't want to bark orders at them. She didn't want to say, ‘Oh, you're all crowded over to one side of the stage. That doesn't look good.’ She wanted to say, ‘Stage picture!’ And then people would adjust themselves. She was trying to be a director, but non-coercively. She was trying to propose a technical challenge that the kids would focus on. And by focusing on that technical challenge, they would solve the problems themselves; and because they had solved the problems themselves, the moments they created they felt very proud of.”

There is a lot of honesty in this book. People are not shy about naming their foes.

“No one in this book does anything less than be completely honest, even at the potential expense of their own reputation or relationships with these other people. You've been to the reunions, and I've been the reunions, and like nothing's changed when they were alive and together, they were still mad about the stuff that they were mad about before. Something which I liked was that finally, David Steinberg and Robert Klein became friends. Steinberg says, ‘I was rough on you and Klein, you were rough on me.’ And then they put it aside. It's like they thought, geez, we're past 16 years, maybe we should be adults and put it aside. And they did.”

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