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For Second City Students, Dreams of the Spotlight

Local kids take inspiration from Tina Fey, Chris Farley and other famous improv comedy alums.

Dallas Koelling had been waiting and waiting for a call to get the news she'd been accepted into into the Second City's Youth Ensemble course.

She missed the call, dialed voicemail and learned she made the cut. She screamed. She shrieked.

Casey Kosydor Whitley got the same news while at . He inexplicably darted to for a salad and French fries.

"I never even eat salad," Kosydor Whitley said. "I flipped out."

Whitley, 13, and Koelling, 14, were accepted into the Improv Ensemble troupe earlier this year after rigorous auditions. Led by Alex Moffat, the program teaches the art of improvisation and the finer points of working within an ensemble cast.

The coursework culminates with spring performances at Donny’s Skybox Theatre, located within the hallowed halls of Second City in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood.

No strangers to public performing — Whitley participates in Brooks' BRAVO program; Koelling dabbled in the 's CAST program and is already a veteran of several improv and comedy writing courses — the pair said they handled the audition pressure with ease.

"You can't really think about the three people behind the table and how you're in competition with everyone else in the room," Koelling said.

Still, it took a couple of go-around's before Koelling was accepted. Whitley was accepted on his first try, a rarity.

"I consoled myself by knowing that nobody gets in the first time, and then this guy comes along," Koelling said, jerking her thumb at Whitley. "The newbie."

Sitting next to one another during a recent interview, the camaraderie between the two budding comics becomes clear. Whitley rolls his eyes when I ask about the dates for the upcoming performance. He knows what's coming next.

Without pause, Koelling militantly rattles off the dates, times, theater location and ticket prices. Whitley sinks his head into his hands.

"Oh my God," Whitley said, exasperated.

Both are students of comedy legends past and present. They study archived Saturday Night Live episodes on Hulu. Whitley likes Portlandia and Amy Poehler. Koelling recently got into Friends — out of nowhere, she begins riffing on the opening credits. "There's a couch by a fountain! Why is there a couch by a fountain?!"

They adore NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup. And Tina Fey. They love Tina Fey.

"Before I met Dallas, Tina Fey was my favorite," Whitley said, tilting his head toward Dallas' binder, which has Fey's face taped to it. "I've kind of backed off a bit."

The courses at Second City take the ensemble, comprised of nine students, through lightning rounds, warm-up games and sketchwriting sessions. They also carve out time to pitch their sketches to Moffat and other instructors.

All told, the group has compiled about 15 sketches. Koelling has pitched a musical number "about youth culture and how so many thing will go over our heads."

Whitley penned a sketch about a commuting hassle that starts with a CTA El train engineer assuming the role of "Simon Says" and ends with one train passenger beating another with a frozen kielbasa.

A few months into their coursework, it seems the teens are just beginning to hit their comedic stride. And they're not afraid to get a little weird for the sake of a laugh. 

"I know I'm just weird," Koelling said. 

Whitley retorts: "Which is just the best."

Wanna catch these rising stars? Performances for the ensemble are slated for March 24, March 31, April 14 and April 21 at 5:30pm in Donny's Skybox Theatre, located at Second City, 1616 N. Wells in Chicago.

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