by Amanda-Marie Quintino
Naomi Snieckus has always loved to laugh, but she never thought she’d be a comedian.
Snieckus, a Ryerson theatre graduate, spent many years on stage before she realized she was interested in improv. Now, as a Mainstage cast member for the Second City, she spends her nights performing, making people laugh out loud and hopefully let loose a smile or two.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really into comedy until I left theatre school,” Snieckus said. “But I grew up on SCTV, and I just really loved what it was — what business it was, what it brought to the community, what it brings to our world…I wanted to make sure I’d be there eventually.”
Now Snieckus finally thinks she is there. Beginning this Friday, she will be sharing the Mainstage spotlight with five other improv comics in Second City: Reloaded.
“(Second City) is just a pretty golden place to be,” she said. “You get to create your own shows and express what you think.”
The legendary comedy theatre, renowned for its socially and politically satirical improv, has relocated from its home on Blue Jays Way to a more intimate venue on Mercer Street. Snieckus says “Second Citizens” can expect a much more interactive experience as a result of the new theatre’s design and layout.
“The audience is right at your feet. When I’m on stage, I can see the pupils of their eyes they’re so close,” said Snieckus. “Laughter is infectious and the closer together the audience is seated, the more infectious the laughter becomes…it really brings people together in a lot of ways. I love making people laugh.”
Her theatre manager, Daniel Shehori, says he admires the enthusiasm that goes along with her massive talent.
“Naomi lights up the room whenever she is on stage,” Shehori said. “She has one of those smiles. She can play the straight man as good as anyone, yet she can also get ridiculously zany at almost the drop of a hat. The local comedy scene needs at least 10 more educated, funny comedy actors like her.”
Still, every time Snieckus receives compliments about her sense of humour, she can’t help but laugh.
“I think it’s funny that my career is now focused around a type of acting that I really wasn’t considering a few years ago,” she said.
“I’ve only been doing (improv) a short time. Some of my Second City cast members have been doing it for like 100 years, you know.”
Snieckus may still be green when it comes to the improv world, but that doesn’t stop fellow Second City: Reloaded actor, Derek Flores, from praising her.
“Naomi is sheer excitement,” Flores said. “Nothing ever gets her down and she always finds new ways of surprising you on stage. There is just a really tangible energy around her that’s almost infectious.”
Snieckus finished Ryerson’s former theatre diploma program in 1994, a competitive three years where she remembers 10 people graduating from an original class of 40. But she says the theatre school taught her a lot of skills that have helped her as she moved throughout the country from stage to stage.
“I think there’s a practicality at Ryerson that they connect you to the outside world a lot,” Snieckus said. “That allows you to kind of realize that you’re living in the lap of luxury being able just to study because it won’t always be like that. Eventually, you’ll have to just go out there and make what you can of the education you’ve received.”
Snieckus went right to work after graduating, performing in theatres such as Toronto’s CanStage and Buddies in Bad Times. Living in Vancouver with her husband, she has been onstage at the Western Canada Theatre, Stanley Theatre, and the TheatreSports League.
She is also a founding member of the Internet film company Rubber Chicken Farmers, and has been in TV shows such as Train 48 and the feature film Lie With Me.
“I was really lucky. I did a whole bunch of shows and really got out there.”
She is thankful to have received a slot in Second City’s Mainstage cast, but it wasn’t easy. Snieckus and her husband, then living in Vancouver, were going to be in Toronto the same time as Second City’s auditions for its touring company.
So, Snieckus wrote a letter to them: “I’m going to be in Toronto. Can I audition while I’m there?”
They said they would call anybody who got an audition the day before — she never got a response.
“It was just one of those great career moments when I said to myself, ‘Geez, cut me some slack.’ So, I called my husband and he was like, ‘You know what? Suck it up. Go and crash the auditions.'”
Putting her determination to use, Snieckus walked into the theatre that day and pleaded for a place to prove herself.
“I don’t have an audition time,” she pleaded, but the company said they didn’t have the time for her either.
“Well, I’m living in Vancouver but I’m here and I want to do this. This is a special occasion,” she replied, and they relented. Snieckus has been with Second City for almost three years now.
“The next thing you know, we moved everything into a big truck and drove across the country. … I found myself ready for a change.”
Snieckus said that one of the best parts of being a Second City cast member is her ability to speak her mind.
“It’s pretty exciting to be part of it. It’s a commentary with a point of view. The six people that you see on stage, this is our point of view.
“The Second City was just one of those things…I wanted to make sure I did it before it was too late and I’m really glad I’m here now.”
The Second City: Reloaded revue starts Oct. 14. See secondcity.com for showtimes, prices and reservations.