During tapings for her TV Land sitcom “Teachers,” it’s often impossible to keep a straight face, actress Kate Lambert admitted. “It often takes a couple of takes. Thank goodness for editing!” said the Oak Park-River Forest High School alum during a recent phone interview.
As the series enters its second season (8 p.m Tuesday on TV Land), Lambert reflected on where she and her co-stars have come from and where they now are taking the show that originated as an improv comedy act in Chicago.
First there was the idea of Caitlin Barlow (who plays Cecilia Cannon on “Teachers”) to put together an improv troupe made up of six young comics whose names were all derivatives of “Katherine.” That also included Lambert, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Katie O’Brien and Katie Thomas.
Calling themselves “the Katydids,” they immediately clicked “the first time we did a show at the Playground Theatre in Chicago,” Lambert recalled. “We had so much fun and realized there was a little magic in the air.”
That to gigs at the iO Theatre and then Chicago director Matt Miller suggesting they do a teacher-themed web series, which eventually caught the attention of TV Land.
“We decided that doing stuff set in elementary school would be good, because we could say inappropriate things that would go over the kids’ heads, but the adult audience would get it,” said Lambert.
Not only do the six women star on the show, but they also co-produce and write the episodes — something Lambert thought would “never happen. … We figured we might be kept on as writers or producers, but to actually work as actors on the show is so fantastic — and frankly pretty unusual in television.”
However, as Lambert noted, since she and her fellow “Katydids” have lived with their characters for five years — including the time before the series launched on TV Land — “it really helps us create the different scenes and episodes.
“With an improv scene, when you have a really defined character, it’s great because anyone else on the team can bring you into a situation. Everyone knows exactly what would make each character get terribly excited or what would make them go nuts! … We all know what would put each person in a situation where they would basically lose it, and that often makes for great comedy.”
Keeping “Teachers” set in Naperville is very important to the show’s star-writer-producers. “Along with all of us starting our careers in Chicago, several of us grew up in the area,” said Lambert, who moved to River Forest right before eighth grade. “Caitlin Barlow went to middle school and high school in the area, and Kate Freedman grew up there as well.”
Joking about the fact the series is completely filmed in Los Angeles, Lambert noted, “We even went so far to capture that local feeling by building hallways. You know, schools in Southern California don’t have hallways, because the classrooms all open directly to the outside — so we couldn’t simply film at a local elementary school in the L.A. area. For this season, they actually built a hallway in the cafeteria set. So the hallway you see has doorways that don’t open to classrooms — they open up to nothing, or simply another part of the cafeteria!”
As Lambert pointed out, she and her “Teachers” teammates draw on their own elementary school memories for inspiration for the show’s episodes. “We all knew someone like Caroline Watson [her character]. The biggest thing for her is that everything needs to be in perfect order. When things don’t go according to plan, that totally throws her off. She’s someone who probably thought she’d be married by 26, have her first kid by 28 — and now she’s pushing 30 and neither of those things have happened for her. The fact that her real life isn’t mirroring that is causing her a lot of stress.
“Also, we all remembered back to grade school when the holidays seemed like the biggest thing in the world. When you’re a kid that’s how it is. … We also built an episode last year around field trip day, and for the first episode of this season it’s all about the first day back at school.”
Lambert added that “when I look back and think about my teachers from elementary school, I think of them as being so much older — that’s how it is when you’re a kid.
“Now, of course, you realize that those teachers were in their 20s or 30s. As kids, we thought they knew everything! Now, naturally, we realize that no one had any idea of what they were doing — but they had to make us think they did!”