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Duluth's Catalyst Story Institute announces partnership with The Second City

Chicago's legendary comedy company will work with the nonprofit organization to offer education and festival programming.

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Attendees at Duluth's first Catalyst Content Festival, in 2019, walk the red carpet at Greysolon Plaza.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Catalyst Story Institute will partner with The Second City Film School to offer education and visibility for artists creating comedic content. This week the Duluth-based nonprofit announced the partnership, which will include online education programming starting soon and a special showcase at this fall's Catalyst Content Festival.

Anna Tanski, Catalyst's head of festivals and events, said that when the organization is asked why The Second City would come to Duluth, "our answer is, why not?" She explained that "to be able to have their big creative brains and influence as part of what's being offered (by Catalyst) is just an incredible opportunity."

This isn't the first high-profile partnership for Catalyst, which was founded in Los Angeles in 2006 and landed in Duluth in 2019 after a five-year stint in Vermont. The organization is also working with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Emmys, to expand its mentorship program. "It is the only program of its kind in North America," Tanski said. "We can't leave this industry to sort of just be to its own devices the way it used to be, because that doesn't work anymore."

The Second City, which started as a Chicago cabaret in 1959, became internationally synonymous with cutting-edge comedy when "Saturday Night Live" catapulted troupe alumni John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd to stardom as generational talents. Today, the company none-too-humbly describes itself as "the most influential and prolific comedy empire in the world," with operations including live shows and events as well as classes and education including The Second City Film School.

The programming offered by Catalyst in association with The Second City will include classes such as "Business of Comedy," "Creating a Web Series," "Adapting Content for Television" and "The Second City Improv Method."

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Despite pandemic setbacks, Catalyst has been surging in influence and visibility since moving to Duluth. The organization's focus is narrative storytelling via platforms including TV and streaming video (broadly described as "content"), which gained immense momentum as locked-down consumers turned to screens for entertainment. At the same time, longstanding industry structures have been disrupted, creating new opportunities for independent creators.

"We are voraciously consuming content at a pace that is outpacing production," Tanski explained. When it "takes a year or two years to produce eight episodes of something that we watch in a weekend, (that) means there's tremendous opportunity for the future. So this time and place for Catalyst ... really, even though it's been around for 17 years, it's just now peaking and really starting to evolve."

Tanski took her current role at Catalyst at the beginning of 2022 after several years leading Visit Duluth, the tourism bureau that recently saw the lion's share of its tourism tax allotment shifted elsewhere. Tanski's responsibilities including overseeing the Catalyst Content Festival, which will take place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 as part of the newly christened North Star Story Summit.

"If you look at what Second City is and how it launches careers, it literally is where people go to find their voice to learn to be trained," Tanski said. "Being present and part of Catalyst (is) elevating their reputation as being a leader, and also, really, at the same time, it's an opportunity for them to discover new talents."

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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