She The People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing it for Themselves is The Second City’s first sketch show entirely created, designed, and performed by women.
Obvi, We’re The Ladies had the chance to interview several of the delightful She The People cast members after seeing the first run of the show. We felt that the show really reflected Obvi’s values, especially the idea of storytelling as activism, so we were truly excited to get to speak to the women who bring it to life.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
OWTL: Give us a little bit of background about yourselves and your journey to comedy and The Second City.
Katie: I majored in theater in college, at Radford University in Virginia and worked at theme parks, children’s theaters, did my tour of duties right after college. And then a friend of mine and I decided we wanted to move. NY seemed too daunting to us, but we worked with a lot of performers that were talking about Chicago. We came here to do theater, really, and found out that The Second City had a conservatory program. I got in and that kind of put me down that whole improv and comedy path. That was in 1992.
Carissa: I went to college for theater as well, but I’m from Chicago, so I’ve been seeing Second City shows since I was like 12. I knew that this was the place that I wanted to be when I was in college, even. So after college, I came back Chicago and I started the conservatory, like you do, and then when you’re in the conservatory, you think, like, this is it. I’m going to be on the stage right after this, and that is not what happened.
And then probably six years went by. You do stuff on your own, you go to the smaller theaters in Chicago, you do improv there, and then finally get your little audition and your shot. And then I went to the boats like we all do from Second City… there was a touring company on Norwegian ships for a while so we could take four-month tours on those. Those were fun, and then I was in one of the first shows in [the UP Comedy Club]. And then I went to the ETC and I’ve done theatrical stuff here and written here. That’s my journey.
ALEX: I’m Alex, I also went to school for theater at the University of Houston and then bumbled around. I was one of those actors who was like an actor but never auditioned for anything and never did anything. And then I was like, “I want to take this more seriously,” so I moved to Chicago to do theater. I was not interested in comedy, I thought it was lame. I’d never been to Chicago before I moved here and just moved to Roger’s Park. I took a Second City class just to try it and to meet people, ‘cause I didn’t know anybody in the city. And then I fell in love my first day. It was like a beginner improv for actors class. I was blown away and started doing [comedy] all the time, and auditioned for conservatory four times before I got in.
So, you’re welcome everybody – It could happen!
I was not a natural. And, yeah, I did conservatory, did a boat and then, just performed around the city and got somehow onto this show, which is really great.
OWTL: So then how did She the People come to exist here? How did that come to fruition?
Carissa: I think it’s been a few years in the making. [The Second City] wanted to do an all-woman show for a while, but they kept having trouble getting it started, getting it going. And then finally last year they were like, “No, this is the year, we have to do it.” And they brought in Carly Heffernan, who’s our director and head writer on it. She started workshops for writers just for this show. And out of those workshops she picked about five women, and she wanted ‘em as diverse as possible. She wanted different minds in that room, anybody who could have a different voice. I was lucky to be in that room and get to write on it.
After we wrote the show, all of the producers came in and listened to a table read. We still had nothing on the books for what the next step was. And after that were like, “We’re moving forward.” They moved us to a summer run where we could try out the material, and I got to AD that, and then after that, the owners and producers of Second City went and saw that run and they were like, “We’re moving you to the UP Theater.” And then we got this cast, the current cast.
Katie: I was a little trepidatious when I first got involved with this. I wasn’t one of the writers on the project, but I was in one of the original think tanks that they pulled writers from. After having those conversations with very diverse groups of women, and then when they brought me onto this, I thought, “Oh this isn’t just cutesie, you know, ‘girls being girls.’” This had a point of view.
OWTL: Yeah that’s definitely not a word I would use to describe it.
Carissa: I honestly don’t know whose first thought it was [to create this show]. In this building, it could have been honestly anyone’s. I know that this is something that [the actors] have been asking for for a very long time.
I know, and this is going back a while. Originally, this was supposed to be older famous women. This was not supposed to be this show at all. At one point this was supposed to be a Menopause The Musical style review, with older women who had come from The Second City and now had a certain level of fame.
But then I think as the climate changed, and Trump was elected, that idea had to become this idea because this was just what people were calling for.
OWTL: How has the environment been different with this all-woman show than on other shows you’ve worked on?
Carissa: This the first time I’ve been in a room with all women creatively, which is so strange. It’s sad when you think about it. I’ve been doing this forever and I’ve never been in a room with all women on this level.
Katie: And zero drama, no BS at all. You know, I think it would be easy to jump to conclusions, like all women? Oh my god, “catfights!” But actually, no, it’s a very productive, supportive, encouraging environment, and everybody’s a grownup.
OWTL: Yeah, that’s so great to hear you say that. I feel like maybe I take it for granted a little bit, that Obvi is all women all the time. With the exception of my full-time job, I’m not creatively working in groups that aren’t all women. I feel like a lot of times, the “too many girls together equals drama” thing is just made up.
Katie: I’d sit in a room when I toured and did a resident stage in this short-lived theater they had in Cleveland, and literally be like, “Well what if we did this?” Ignored. And then ten minutes later a guy would say basically the same thing and everybody would be like, “Yes! We should do that.” If I had a nickel for every time that happened. And then you doubt yourself! You start to internalize it, and you start to believe it.
OWTL: Was there any other sort of “hit list”, especially with the Trump election and stuff, for what you felt needed to be in the show for it to be successful?
Carissa: I think there was, definitely. When we were in the writers’ room, there were so many things that we wanted to bring up. As any show, you have producers and you have directors and you have artists. So that list gets smaller and smaller of what we’re gonna be able to say – you saw [the show] before the holidays, but during the holidays, the whole #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein things happened, so when we came back…
OWTL: What a whirlwind it’s been.
Katie: There’s so much going on, you could just stand on the stage and yell! But we didn’t want it to be like that!
Carissa: We all had the talk when we got back, that was like, “We need to address this.” We needed to make some adjustments in the show. So come back and see it, it’s changed!
OWTL: I know I’ve heard that this is the first all-female-run show here. Does the highlighting of that fact come with any pressure for you guys?
Carissa: Not for us. I feel like, maybe for the audience. I feel like when people to come see us, they’re putting pressure on this to be the thing they think it is. And men don’t think it’s going to be for them, or people think it’s just for a certain type of audience. I feel like that, that we need to get away from. Because this isn’t just for a bachelorette party girls weekend. This is for literally everyone.
Katie: And I think that in recent years where it’s just like “Why don’t people think women are funny?” You know, your Amy Schumer’s and your Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s that have had to kind of field and deal with that conversation a lot. I think we’re like, yeah, women are just as funny as men so let’s move beyond that. I don’t know, I can’t speak for the suits, if they were like, “Ooh this is risky, putting all women in this without a guy!” because the second time they did an all-female thing they threw one guy in there…
Carissa: It was called Four Girls And A Guy. That was literally the name of the show.
OWTL: You’ve gotta be shittin’ me.
Alex: And I’m sure, I mean just the way the process has gone, it seems as though it’s been protected. You know, like “We want to make sure that this is a success.” Being the first one that’s all women. That would suck if it failed, you know? Like doing the summer run in a smaller theater, like “Cool, ok, This is successful.” Doing that fall run and then really blowing it out press-wise didn’t happen until this run. Now, we definitely have the product that we’re looking for so let’s push it hard. So I’m sure from the other side that I don’t worry about, there probably was that pressure to make sure this is right.
Katie: There was! I applaud them for taking the steps necessary to create a show, because they’ve done many shows where it’s like, “Let’s just create this in a vacuum and then book a tour and hope that it works out!” And I’m so glad that they went through this whole process of workshopping it, of all of that, I think that’s what needed to happen and it set us up for success.
ALEXIS ROSTON JOINS US
Alexis: It was liberating for us and it’s liberating for the women who come and partake in it. I don’t think there’s much pressure at all. We are being honest. There’s so much truth happening up here, you know, and the truth is funny. So, no pressure.
Alex: It’s easy when the show is really good. Like, “Oh, I’m just going to go and have a great time and I know it’s going to be taken care of.”
Carissa: Yeah it’s true. I’ll have really long days and I’ll come here and I’ll be like, “Oh this is my fun, this is what I’m doing for my release. This is fun for me too.”
[they all agree enthusiastically]
OWTL: Switching it up a little bit: Obvi is rooted in storytelling as activism and I feel like this show is clearly a form of activism. What part do your personal stories play in the production of your work? Or do you maybe take more value from projecting other people’s journeys?
Alexis: Clearly. CLEARLY, I take much pride in being the president of the United States [in the show]. Me, being a little black girl from the south side of Chicago, you know, with high hopes and dreams. Honestly, I do relish being able to have that moment at the end of the show, I won’t even say a little bit, quite a bit. It’s a really big deal. And to be living in a time where, you know, we were so close to having our first female president and knowing that it’s on the horizon. You know what I mean? I just feel like it’ll happen in my lifetime!
Carissa: [Fist up] Elizabeth Warren.
Alexis: Yes, I take extra pride in that moment in the show.
Carissa: Yeah, and that was written by Marla Caceres. She is a mother of two and a Cuban-American woman. But she was one of the women in the writer’s room. She came in with it almost exactly word for word. We had maybe a ten-minute brainstorm session where we pitched a few jokes but that was almost verbatim. It was perfect.
OWTL: Yeah, that was really good
Alex: I mean, this show resonates with the audience because everyone can see themselves in it. Even though I didn’t write that show, it’s so easy to fall into those pieces and I think Carly [Heffernan] also cast really well. I feel like she’s like, “Alex here is this thing for you to do, take your pants off you’re going to love it.” And I was like, “THANK YOU.”
Katie: We’ve been able to get our little bit in here or there and you know solidify our own experiences and points of view in the material.
Carissa: And I think that’s so important, especially with the Second City shows. It’s one thing to write material and hand it to somebody, but to be able to perform it you have to be able to transform it into your voice.
OWTL: This one will be a two-parter. What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout your career, maybe one that you learned the hard way?
Carissa: I think for me, this is personal, I don’t think that it’s a comedian-wide thing. But I do think for me the biggest thing that helps me do this is: you’re going to fail. Being able to fail and continue is how you do this work. If you can get up on stage and tell a joke to absolute silence but continue and almost take joy in that? If you can take some joy in the failure, then you can do this work. And if you can’t do that, I would shy away from comedy in general. Because there has to be some joy in failure. Just jumping off a cliff and not having a net and being like, “I’ll see if this works!!”
Katie: Think of all the times you’ve done shows that bombed. And then you go backstage and there’s nothing more fun than commiserating with your fellow castmates. Like, “How bad was that??”
Alexis: Been there, done that! I would just say, and this is across the board, Do It Afraid! People tell you all the time, you just don’t know what you can’t do until you just go out there and do it. I tell people all the time, I’m like “everyday funny” I’m not like “Really Up On The Stage Funny!” so actually being on the stage and being funny? WHAT?! Doing it afraid, child. That’s what it’s called.
Katie: I wish I was a better business person. I’d be a lot more successful if I were a lot better at running the business of myself. It’s like you’re a small business and you have to advertise that business. There are all these things you have to do to make that business successful, and I wish I had learned more about that [in college].
OWTL: What would you say you’re most proud of, or, what is the most special part of the experience of doing this?
Alexis: Let me just speak for me! Being the newest member of the cast, I will say that my sister cast was very welcoming, there was a lot of camaraderie. It was very warm and welcoming. And you know, coming from a theater background not so much a comedy background, I know that this is not always the case. It’s typically like, “Ohh, we have to work extra because we have a new person coming in.” You know what I mean? It just speaks to sisterhood and you know, it speaks to women – we just have each other’s backs! Generally. And in this case, it definitely was like that and I’m really grateful for that process. You know, if one of us messes up, we all mess up together?
Alex: I mean, I love our audiences. They just seem so receptive and so excited. And I’ve talked about this before but they start clapping when lights come up. They’re so excited to see us and as we go through the show, there are points where you have to pause on a line because they’re cheering so hard, just so excited about everything that’s happening on stage. It’s awesome.
Katie: It’s been great being part of a show where everybody gets to shine, you know? That isn’t always the case. Coming out and having these young girls, like literally one said to me last week, “I got fired up, I’m fired up!” and then I’ve had middle-aged and older women come up to me moved and emotional.
It’s really easy, especially when you do show a lot, to go in there and punch-in and do what you know how to do because you’ve been doing it for a long time, but with these audiences it’s a little different. You know? This is meaningful.