The Second City agrees to institutional changes: ‘We are prepared to tear it all down and begin again’

The legendary Chicago company agreed to demands made earlier this week by a group of former staffers and alumni concerning allegations of racism, discrimination and other trauma-inducing misconduct experienced by black artists at Second City.

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The Second City at 1616 N. Wells in Chicago.

The Second City in at 1616 N. Wells in Chicago.

Sun-Times File

In an open letter on its website and Facebook page, The Second City on Thursday agreed to recent demands made by a group of former employees and alumni over the need for the Chicago institution to completely overhaul itself following public outcry over allegations of company-wide racism, abuse, discrimination, sexual misconduct, harassment, verbal abuse, pay inequity and other unacceptable treatment of artists of color.

The letter, signed by Second City’s vice chairman/board member D’Arcy Stuart and vice president/managing partner Steve Johnston, read, in part: “We hear you, and we apologize for the extraordinary pain, trauma, and erasure that you have experienced. ... The steps taken to make Second City a purposefully anti-racist institution will reach into every corner of the company and touch every aspect of its operations.”

The response came in the wake of an open letter on Monday, in which 19 current and former employees and alumni including Chris Redd, Amber Ruffin and Sam Richardson, said they would no longer tolerate “the erasure, racial discrimination, manipulation, pay inequity, tokenism, monetization of black culture and trauma-inducing experiences of black artists at The Second City.”

Among the list of changes put forth by Second City are the immediate creation of a steering committee including Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), Latinx and LGBTQIA+ reps from the current student body to undertake the search for a full-time, permanent executive producer; “building an industry-leading anti-racist, inclusive organization with mandates that touch every aspect of the company’s operations and culture”; hiring an outside BIPOC-owned Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Firm to train staff and faculty and develop a public-facing code of conduct; and a commitment to “an open process” through which the contributions of BIPOC artists will be recorded and proper accreditation given.

In addition, the company said it is committed to creating a safe work environment and pledged to investigate “all allegations of workplace discrimination, harassment, assault and abuse.”

To reinforce Second City’s commitment to the list of changes, Stuart and Johnson pledged: “To be clear: We are prepared to tear it all down and begin again.”

The demands came just days after Andrew Alexander, the co-owner and executive producer of Second City, exited the company, citing an institutional failure “to recognize racism within our own walls.” In his open letter regarding his departure, Alexander wrote: “The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life.”

Alexander was replaced by Anthony LeBlanc as interim executive producer. LeBlanc most recently served as an artistic director for Second City, and is also a part-time faculty member at Columbia College Chicago.

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