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Chicago fire (not the TV series)

The Second City comedy club

Written by Marshall Bissett

When fire swept through the offices of Chicago's Second City comedy club in August 2015, it was no laughing matter. While most of the damage was front of house, the comedy club that gave a start to the careers of Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd and Stephen Colbert was facing a long closure and loss of revenue. 

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries battling the blaze that investigators believe started in a kitchen on the first floor of an adjacent restaurant. With the grim humor for which the Windy City is famous, a fire department spokesman was heard to say: "Where there's fire, there's satire." 

The Second City comedy club

Then came the serious business of restoring the lighting systems on the five stages that - while not directly damaged by the fire - suffered the secondary effects of smoke and water. Proving once again that in comedy, timing is everything, the team at DesignLab answered the call. CEO Larry Schoeneman says: "We were already working on an architectural design for them, so we put a rush on bringing the stages up to code. After the shows closed each night, we would bring in new plugging strips." 

With the architectural project now on the back burner ( sorry! ) the phone lines from Chicago to Middleton started humming. "We needed to come up with dimmers in a hurry and fortunately we are now stocking a lot of Unison packs, so we were able to come through quickly," says ETC Midwest Regional Manager Sylvia Sinclair. 

The Second City comedy club

The order took another dramatic turn when Schoeneman drove up to Middleton in person to pick up the order, only to find the factory closed for the night. Sinclair then circled back, got the doors open and started the task of fitting a dimming system into a midsize car. "It was like a real-world version of Tetris taking place in a dark parking lot," jokes Sinclair, "and I'm sure would have been fun to watch. It took me a week to get that game's theme music out of my head!" 

The total turnaround from order to commissioning was less than two weeks. The job of fitting it all into Second City's show schedule fell to DesignLab's project manager, Andre Flowers. "To say it was a rush job was an understatement - we had a deadline of three weeks from fire to reopening," describes Flowers. While most damage was to the Mainstage Theater and E.T.C. Theater, the two training stages (the De Maat and Donny's Skybox) also needed work. The Main and E.T.C. stages each required two ETC Unison® rack enclosures and 10 Two-Port DMX/RDM Gateways . The training stages each got 12-channel SmartPack® Wall-Mount units .

Second City's technical director, Kyle Anderson, knew he was in good hands: "We have been dealing with DesignLab for decades and we called them even while the firefighters were still in the building. We knew that between them and ETC, we could pull this off." 

Moving forward, DesignLab is working out details for the two as-yet-unnamed spaces for the Second City School, which offers accredited comedy courses in conjunction with Columbia College. "We are excited to be going all LED for the first time on these stages," summarizes Anderson. "We were really impressed with the ColorSource product line ." 

Photos courtesy of Johnny Knight