St. Olaf College | News

Student improvises off-campus semester at Second City

St. Olaf College student Laura Bretheim ’14 is learning the ropes of sketch comedy and improv this semester through a program at The Second City in Chicago.

All great improvisers know how important it is to roll with the punches.

So when Laura Bretheim ’14 found a semester program at The Second City in Chicago that was not offered through St. Olaf College, she worked out a creative solution.

Bretheim, an environmental studies major at St. Olaf, is spending her fall semester enrolled in the Comedy Studies Program at Second City through Columbia College Chicago.

While the program isn’t currently affiliated with St. Olaf, the college’s flexibility, along with the help of Theater Department faculty member Dona Freeman, enabled Bretheim to develop a system of credit that would reflect her studies upon her return to campus.

The Second City specializes in sketch comedy and improv and has been the training ground for well-known comedians like Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert. Students take classes in acting, writing, improvisation, voice and movement, and being a professional comedian, as well as complete an independent study.

Bretheim, a self-described “big comedy nerd” who got involved in St. Olaf’s improv group, Scared Scriptless, her first year, found the program at Second City several years ago. But she decided to officially apply after a conversation with a fellow Ole.

Bretheim attended St. Olaf’s annual Making it in the Arts Conference and struck up a conversation with Shelly Gossman ’99, a successful comedian who has written for Saturday Night Live. Besides being a fellow St. Olaf alumna, Gossman was also deeply interested in improv and comedy and had even studied at Second City herself.

“She encouraged us to come here if we were thinking at all of pursuing improv or comedy in general,” Bretheim says. “It really is a fantastic place to hone your skills and your voice.”

Like many off-campus study programs, Bretheim is exposed to new ways of learning every day.

“Overall, our teachers are incredible,” she says. “They create a place where we can take risks, fail, and then try again. I’ve really learned how to accept that something might not work at first, but there are ways to make it better. Also, my homework is usually, ‘write some sketches,’ or ‘watch this sketch and explain why it’s funny.’ Which is just fun.”

While there are certainly times when the creative juices aren’t flowing, Bretheim says her experiences working with successful comedians (including a visit from Saturday Night Live cast member Horatio Sanz), writers, actors, and directors provides the necessary motivation.

“The most challenging thing is the roller-coaster ride of feeling good or bad about the work,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll get stuck in a rut for days, or even a week or two, but I’ve learned that if I just keep working, eventually I’ll find the next idea that I really enjoy.”

She adds, “We’ve gotten to meet a lot of professionals, and they’ve all told us similar things: do the work, be patient, have fun, and it’s possible.”