For most Vassar students, the idea of a Junior Year Abroad (JYA) would not include spending a semester in the Midwest. For Lucia Rieur ’14, however, spending her JYA in Chicago was life-changing.
“I studied abroad with air quotes,” said Rieur. Before going abroad, Rieur spent the summer working as an intern at the prestigious New Group Theater Company, a New York based contemporary theater organization whose first production, Avenue Q, became an instant hit. At New Group, Rieur was able to gather a behind-the-scenes view of production and marketing.
Rieur then participated in a program at The Second City in Chicago, where a list of renowned comedians—including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Jack McBrayer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and others—began their careers. “It was all comedy, all the time, and I got school credit for it which feels like a joke—the joke was on me that it managed to work out. It was a really great experience,” Rieur said.
Rieur is the acting president of The Limit, a sketch comedy troupe at Vassar.
She said, “We do our own shows, but we are bringing outside groups too this semester, which is really exciting.”
Apart from her involvement with The Limit, Rieur participates in works of student theater on campus that tend to be comedic. That being said, Rieur considers The Limit to be her main activity on campus.
While Rieur’s program at The Second City focused on performing comedy, Rieur was expected to produce research papers as well as laughs. The program offered classes on the history of comedy as well as a how-to class on using current events for satire à la Colbert, another Second City alum.
This angle brought levels of academia to the program in its own way. At The Second City, Rieur was trained in the arts of both improv and writing comedy.
Rieur was even required to perform a set of stand-up in front of her peers. Rieur reflected on the experience and her stand-up material positively. She explained, “Everyone had to go up and watch each other do a stand-up set, which was a really safe environment to do it in, so that was good. I want to develop my stand-up into more narrative but right now it is more intentionally awkward, uncomfortable and includes a lot of one liners that are also all really awkward. It’s all so awkward.”
On her experience doing her set, Rieur said, “It’s so scary. I have so much respect for people who can do it and not show any fear… which I guess is one of the good reasons my stand-up was awkward, because it covered up just how nervous I was.”
While doing the set scared Rieur, she described the environment in which she performed: “[It is] definitely the safest environment I could have done it in, because people at open mic scenarios are not going to be as nice as 20 of my peers.”
Overall, she felt that her frightening experience doing stand-up was also a beneficial one. Rieur said, “It was really nice because I knew how much effort people had put into them. There were some people who had done stand-up before and seemed like pros and knew exactly what they were doing. People who hadn’t done stand-up were maybe not as skilled as the ‘vets,’ but they still produced really great material and you could see what in their personal life was integrated into their stand-up.”
The Second City also offered practical workshops for their participants such as “How to Audition for The Second City” so that students could hopefully become a part of the prestigious company upon graduating college. Renowned alumnae/i from the program also came in to talk to the participants about the kinds of work they have been doing, which included a plethora of experiences, such as working on Conan.
One of the alumnae who made a particular mark upon Rieur was Susan Messing, a Chicago-based stand-up comedian.
“She really wants everyone to own every decision they make and that if you commit to it, it’s going to be good. You just have to take that final jump and do it. She would say, ‘If you fart, own that you fart and know that you ate three bean burritos and extra fiery hot sauce.’ She has no filter. It’s perfect—she is perfect,” said Rieur.
All in all, Rieur’s experience at The Second City changed the way she approached comedy and her work with The Limit at Vassar.
“It made me realize what I had been doing at Vassar before, that maybe I thought, ‘This is how comedy is supposed to be done,’ with The Second City going, ‘No, you’re wrong. You may have thought you knew what you were doing, but you really don’t.’ It was good,” Rieur noted.
She continued, “I also learned how to better structure shows and ways to do sketch shows and earn the audience’s trust. Know that you’re working together, so you can start off with something not as insane but finally get the audience to go all the way with you to crazy town. It’s fun for everyone in a way.”