On the heels of a new regime at Second City, Chicago’s premier improv institution, comes “Black and White News: The Plan!,” a new show co-created by a Loyola alum, tackling race and politics.
Atra Asdou, a 2010 Loyola graduate, grew up inspired by comedians such as Gilda Radner and George Carlin, even writing a paper on Richard Pryor in the eighth grade. After studying theater at Loyola, she went on to join the Second City crew where she helped create “Black and White News: The Plan!”
The show utilizes an episodic news show format, discussing different hot topics each show in an effort to uplift Black voices. The first of three shows focused on insurrectionism, and the upcoming shows are set to deal with the U.S. Postal Service and religion. Each episode closes out with a rotating musical guest.
In a summer full of protests for racial reckoning, Second City underwent a healing process of its own when longtime CEO Andrew Alexander stepped down amid allegations of institutional racism. With Jon Carr stepping in as a new executive producer, Asdou said this opened the door for “gaining BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) trust back,” even though “it’s not going to happen in a day.”
“As BIPOC performers at Second City … our goals were always to make it better for the next BIPOC generation behind us,” Asdou, 33, said. “So, it’s kind of that passing-the-torch mode of thinking, but at some point you go, ‘Well, are we passing the torch? Is it going to burn folks?’ … Or, are we really going to examine this and make sure this is a healthy environment we’re leaving our friends.”
After Second City temporarily transitioned to virtual shows due to COVID-19, creator Terrence Carey reached out to Asdou to co-produce his new show. “Black and White News: The Plan!” follows a debate format before ending with improv through spoken-word pieces that attempt to “bridge the divide” in society
Despite the show’s discussion of heavy topics, its primary focus is on healing through comedy. Asdou said viewers of any background could find “one angle” or “one line” they enjoy, even if they don’t come from a BIPOC understanding themself.
“They have the talent to be able to process the world and then the ability to speak their minds and do so in a way that has you rolling on the floor laughing,” Asdou said. “I don’t cry-laugh very often, but I’ve wheezed and cry-laughed at so many things that get thrown out in rehearsal.”
The virtual aspect of the show opened the crew to experimenting with digital visual elements, such as camera angles and green screens. Asdou said this allows stars to be more creative with their set and incorporate a more distinct aesthetic to the show.
Asdou said production has utilized these elements in exciting ways that veer away from the “power of imagination” necessary on a theater stage. She said the script stands tall on its own even when stripped from the visual elements.
“If we had no visual elements, this show would still be amazing,” she said. “It’s just the visual elements add so much to it and make it different from a live theater show.”
Second City is currently for sale and Asdou this transitional period led to the greenlight of only three shows. She said the crew is hopeful audience turnout will incentivize Second City to add shows to the roster.
“If we can show them that this show matters and that audiences think that by buying tickets and watching it, then we can get extended,” Asdou said. “We’d love to have like eight more episodes.”
“Black & White News: The Plan!” will run live shows on Feb. 18 and Mar. 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be bought on Tixr and are $15 per household.