'Trump-Emboldened,' 'Racist' Crowds Feed An Exodus At The Second City In Chicago

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 14, 2016 7:00PM

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The Second City / Facebook

At least four performers and three members of management have exited famed improv institution The Second City within the last several day—in part due to racist remarks made by audiences who feel bolstered by Donald Trump’s rhetoric, some involved parties said.

Former ETC player Peter Kim, 33, confirmed his departure with WBBM on Thursday.

“I really think [Trump] gave people carte blanche to act and behave hateful,” he told CBS Chicago.

From CBS:

"Kim said audiences have gotten more abusive in the past year and has heard people use the ‘f’ word, alluding to a slur against gays.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a man was sitting next to a Hispanic couple,” Kim said. “We asked a question to another lady, completely different lady, we said, ‘Hey, ma’am, what is something small that pisses you off, like getting stuck in traffic.'”

The man, unsolicited, screamed out, ‘Sitting too close to a Mexican,’ while sitting next to a Hispanic couple."

Kim said there was another time he felt physically threatened by a man who got too close to the stage."

Also, on Friday morning, Chicago Tribune theatre critic and reporter Chris Jones noted that Erica Daniels, the prominent president of Second City Theatricals, and Michael Gart, CFO, had decamped, as well. A third manager, Tyler Alexander, is taking a leave of absence.

Jones broke the initial story on Tuesday when he reported that Lisa Beasley, Aasia Lashay Bullock and Scott Morehead—like Kim, all performers at the ETC's provocative, acclaimed revue "A Red Line Runs Through It”—had left, too.

Andrew Alexander, CEO and producer at The Second City, confirmed the latest departures with Chicagoist on Friday and reiterated a sentiment he expressed earlier in the week, that “racist” audience taunts—which he said have reached unprecedented levels—were a factor.

"Over the last six months, we’ve seen a much higher level of audience verbal shout-outs; and sometimes those have become racist,” Alexander told Chicagoist. “And sometimes the host or employees would miss some. The actors were getting frustrated over time.”

“In 44 years of this work, I’ve never seen anything like it. The audience seems to feel like they have license in very unpleasant ways,” he added. "Ninety-nine percent of people are cool. But the jerk who used to keep his mouth shut now feels like he has the right to say something."

Alexander said he will be more involved with day-to-day operations following the exodus. “I will make sure our actors are protected,” he said.

There were other contributing factors to the exits, too, Alexander said. A sense of “backstage discord” played a significant role, he said, as had “financial downsizing.”

Still, he said some of the exited performers, though officially gone, are on good terms with the theatre, according to Alexander. Beasley, Bullock and Morehead are either pursuing writing work at The Second City or have made proposals “to become involved.”

As Jones reported, The Second City is continuing its production of “Red Line” with understudies. Chicagoist has reached out to parties involved in the shakeup and will update this story as necessary.