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'We really need to laugh': Toronto's Second City opens its new venue

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For almost 50 years it's been a comedy institution in this city, and now it has a new home.

The doors have opened on The Second City's new 28,000 square foot Toronto venue, located at One York Street.

"It's bigger, it's better, it's brighter, it's shinier," creative Director Carly Heffernan told CTV News Toronto during a tour of the complex.

Inside, there are three performance theatres, including the 244-seat main stage. There's also a 170-seat '1973 Theatre' named for the year the organization started in Canada. Inside that theatre, a stage modelled on the facade of Second City's original Toronto home: The Old Firehall on Lombard Street.

"The space -- we had at the Old Firehall was more compact," Colin Mochrie told CTV News Toronto. "It was an old firehall which tells you -- there was a pole in the lobby".

The Second City alumnus, and Canadian comedy icon, shared his memories of working in the original space.

"What I enjoyed about it was the cast was very close, because we were literally very close. Everybody's dressing cubicle was right beside each other and there was that history of you know the cast of SCTV started here, and all these amazing people have gone through. And there was a smell downstairs that we just assumed was the smell of legends."

From Eugene Levy, to Gilda Radner, Martin Short to Mike Myers, the list of Second City members who have gone on to comedic stardom is long. And one of those legends is being honoured in the new venue.

A small, 70-seat performance space has been named the "John Candy Box Theatre". On the stage are slats of wood, laid by hand, taken from the original stage at the first Second City location.

"I think I smell a bit of my flop sweat in the corner," joked Mochrie as he examined the historic flooring.

The Second City's John Candy Box Theatre is seen within its newest Toronto location on Nov. 30, 2022. (Arthur Mola)

This is The Second City's fourth Toronto location in 49 years. After Lombard Street, Second City moved to Blue Jays Way, and later Mercer Street. That location closed when the building was sold for condo development.

The new facility features not just performance space, but also nine studios for sketch and improv teaching and training.

"I'm not a big fan of it," said Mochrie. "Because it just means there's people trying to replace me. So obviously I have mixed feelings but on the grander scale you're getting quality training from people who have gone through this process, who know what it's like."

Having both the educational and performance spaces on the same level, is an important feature for the organization's creative director.

"I love that ensemble is something that we talk about all the time when we're creating at Second City," said Heffernan. "It's so important -- ensemble on the stage, but also ensemble off of the stage -- and that's what this space allows for."

Connected to the PATH system, the new Second City also features three bars, and in-show food provided by Oliver & Bonacini (O+B). It's planned as a place for some of the next generation of comedy stars to train and perform, and a place where audiences can sit back and laugh.

"We really need to laugh," said Mochrie. "It's so great that Second City is back out there ready to continue the tradition."  

Audience members at the Second City's newest Toronto location are seen here on Nov. 30, 2022. (Arthur Mola)

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