The Second City Works preformed in the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex  April 9.

As Second City Works celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, the five-person cast of Sayjal Joshi, Calvin Evans, Jason Ball, Andrew Knox and Sarah Ashley preformed their keynote act called “Diversity and Inclusion: Leading The Change By Being Others Focused.” 

An IUP planning team worked with the cast to create an event that focused on empathy instead of focusing on yourself. The team was composed of Stephanie Taylor-Davis from the CTE and Dept. of Food and Nutrition, Lynn Botelho from Women’s and Gender Studies and Dept. of History, Rachel DeSoto-Jackson from Dept. of Theatre, Dance and Performance, Michelle Fryling from Division of Marketing and Communications David Chambers from the Free Speech Project and Department of Political Science and Pao Ying Hsiao from Department of Food and Nutrition.

The cast immediately introduced improvisational theatre as their main theme that allows them to listen to one another, join in and build on, creating something together. With an act that is meant to be “experiential,” SCW introduced the ideas of cooperation, collaboration, social skills and communication, all things their team uses during improv, and things that business and academia use as well. 

“The reason I was interested in bringing Second City Works to IUP is because I was able to see them at a conference I attended in Chicago and strategies that they presented and how these impacted the audience,” said Taylor-Davis. “The keynote provided an opportunity to bring students, staff, faculty and administrators together to experience the way improvisational theatre (improv) can strengthen our communication to listen and learn from one another particularly when engaging on or discussing challenging topics.”

Many skills built through performance theater are applicable to situations in which you don’t know what’s going to happen, an unexpected forward. Ball and J explained they wanted to challenge the audience, but not scare them, a phrase they referred to as bumping up against your comfort zone.

“We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Ball said.

“The Second City works planning team worked with SCW to develop tailored scenes that connected with and reinforced already important and on-going initiatives on our campus such as the Free Speech Project, Elephant in the Room series, IUP Diversity Action Plan and Difficult Dialogues, all initiatives and programs that are happening already at IUP,” Taylor-Davis said. 

The first act began with “we take you now to this place.” 

The audience was taken to a scene in which two guys, one Caucasian man and one African American, are at a bar. As the scene soon reveals, the bar and staff are racist, but the white man doesn’t notice until his friend points out multiple forms of evidence. 

The scene ended and the audience engaged in a conversation about privilege and the denial of an experience until one is directly affected. Sometimes we don’t even acknowledge what we know or what we don’t know often times because it makes us uncomfortable, Ball pointed out. 


Following this, the audience was asked to participate in an activity with a team of three, A,B and C, in which the first person got to make up a party. Three rounds took place in which B and C would reply to A’s ideas with first “no, because,” then “yeah, but” and lastly by replying “yeah, and.” 

This exercise was meant to show the audience that you got more comfortable the more it expanded and that the more collaboration present (the phrase “yeah, and” rather than the other two) is more inviting without limitations. Ball mentioned this as the foundation of everything they do in improvisation; it’s their mindset. 

“The magic of what we do is everything they say I’m going to go with it and build on it making it richer and expansive,” Ball said. 

“This helps us to have a shared skill set to talk about difference and disagreement in productive ways,” Taylor-Davis said.

The second act began with a “nearby apartment,” where two roommates are both cleaning, planning to have a group over. The male roommate wanted to have over his LGBTQ group while the female roommate wanted to have her marriage-and-discussion group over. 

The two start quarreling over the others’ groups, making assumptions about feeling and thoughts on both sides. This exercise was meant to show that sometimes in an area with a lot of different viewpoints you don’t talk about them in order to hold peace. In order to change this, we need to take the risk because it is necessary to talk about things to get along and continue forward. Becoming comfortable with these kind of conversations is valuable. 

 A second exercise took place with the same ABC teams, but this time, the individuals would reply to A’s ideas with “Thank you.” This was a form a positive reinforcement that makes a person feel appreciated. As our only currency with other people is relationships and information, this exercised pushed the audience to focus on their reactions. 

You should be thankful this person is willing to share their opinions and ideas with you, Ball said. 

Finally the audience was asked to repeat the phrase, “I never said I thought your idea was bad.” Reading this sentence nine times, the audience was asked to take turns going through the sentence and emphasizing each of the words once.  This was to show how emphasizing certain parts of a sentence can make your desired message seem altered as your use of words is important. 

Following the two keynote workshops, “Diversity and Inclusion: Becoming Comfortable with the Uncomfortable” took place from 1 to 4 p.m. with about 50 people attending. The group first sat in a large circle then dispersed into groups of eight working on more in depth conversations and discussing the benefits of improv. 

“The three-hour workshop was time well spent,” said Michelle Papakie, the chairwoman of the Dept. of Journalism and Public Relations. “I took two years of improv classes at Arcade Comedy Club in Pittsburgh. I used the techniques every day. It was fun to see the students make the same connection during the workshop.”

The workshop also introduced a technique on how to deal with inappropriate jokes. 

One should simply say, “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” 

This makes the person who told the joke explain, ultimately diffusing its purpose. 


“The workshops were beneficial,” said Kylie Smith, a sociology master’s student. “Diversity inclusion can be really difficult for people to talk about because we’ve always been told not to talk about it. So developing the tricks and tools to talk about these things are going to avoid conflict and just make the conversation more productive.” 

Second City Works Keynote left the IUP campus with the ideas of creating a more inclusive community, listening and responding more empathetically and how using the improv approach can be helpful in unplanned situations. The Second City Works Workshop taught IUP to gain tactics for stepping into difficult situations and understanding and communication the difference between intent and impact.

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