Where can York High School kids go to poke fun at their classes—and anything else, for that matter—without fear of retribution? Where can they let their hair down and get a little racy outside the confines of their school building?
Last weekend, they went all the way to the North Shore, to the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago and a little black box theater inside a place called Stage 773. This area of the city, at Belmont and Racine, is full of theaters and avant garde shops and restaurants.
That's where the kids of York's Sketch Comedy Troupe, along with dozens of other teen and adult comedy players, exercised their funny bones at the 11th annual SketchFest.
While some of these York students have performed at other sketch comedy venues, like Unintentionally Hilarious, this is the first year York has had its own, organized comedy troupe. And their first performance as S Cubed (Super Sketch Suburbanites) hit it out of the park.
In a 45-minute, rapid-fire, SNL-type format, the crowd roared as a trailer trash family negotiated the sale of their daughter during a garage sale. The laughs kept coming during a beauty pageant that included none other than The Devil in a fire-red "evening gown," who killed her opponents.
Then there was the bad Santa skit, where children had their dreams crushed, one by one, by a department store Santa who tells it like it is. Their performance in skits like Nuns with Guns, Yuri's Sausage House and Alternate Olympics also earned rave reviews from the audience.
The brain child of the York troupe, junior Rachel Michaud, has comedy in her veins. Her mom, Laura Michaud, is chairman of the board for Stage 773. She is vice president of the Elmhurst Children's Theater Board and membership chairman for Standing Room Only, a nonprofit theater support group for the York High School Drama Department. Laura's brother, Brian Posen, is the founder, executive producer and artistic director for Stage 773.
Posen has produced SketchFest since it began in 2000, and he also runs an improv class at Second City and teaches at Columbia College.
Rachel comes from a funny family, so it's no surprise she says she is most inspired by her uncle.
"I only wish I had started sooner, though," she said. "I started getting involved in sketch in seventh grade. Then I dropped all the musical stuff and hopped on this train."
She says when she started the troupe at York, she worried about what it would be like telling her peers what to do, but this inaugural year has been a big success.
"I was surprised. I was worried we wouldn't have enough (participants)," she said.
But with 18 on board now, and only one senior graduating in 2012, the troupe is likely to grow as more kids find out about it. There is a teacher sponsor, but Rachel really runs the show.
"It was really stressful at first," she says of trying to run the troupe and keeping up with all her homework. She also takes classes at Second City. "But I think next year it will be better because we're going to split up the (leadership) roles."
So, where does inspiration come from? While many of the kids are big Tina Fey, Amy Pohler and Andy Samberg fans, the main inspiration comes from their everyday lives.
"I notice things during the day," Rachel says.
One scene came from a friend looking at a picture and noticing everyone was wearing a Christmas sweater at a party except for one person. That turned into a sketch where an obsessive-compulsive host welcomes guests to her party, first making them "Santa"tize their hands, but then she can barely function when the nonsweater-wearing guest arrives.
Rachel gives the players assignments, like to come up with a scene that involves a game show, or think of something that would involve audience participation. And they do not disappoint, she says.
"The kids are fabulous, and the ideas that just pop into their heads are amazing," she says.
Their next gig will be at the York High School Fine Arts Festival March 5-9. As for Stage 773 becoming their home base, Rachel says, "We'll see."
"We have a couple of other places we can perform," she says.
In fact, York Principal Diana Smith would like the troupe to do a performance for the faculty, Laura Michaud says.
Spoofing a teacher. No end to the possibilities there.