City Life Supplement: The Best Live, Recorded, Theater, Radio, Sketch, Improv, Comedy, Drama, Music Show Podcast You Haven’t Heard of…Yet

By Patty Wetli | Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Matt Lyle, Allison Tolman and Mike Brunlieb of City Life Supplement. Credit: Matt Webb

And now, for the latest episode of As the World Sighs. Shay is about to marry Dustin, the evil twin of her true fiance, Justin, who’s been kidnapped and held in a bunker … without Wi-Fi. Without Wi-Fi!

As the World Sighs is just one of the creations of the City Life Supplement, a collection of songs, sketches, stories and music performed monthly at Transistor, 3819 N. Lincoln Ave., and recorded as a podcast, most recently on June 30. The show is often described, admittedly by CLS’ own website, as a slightly naughtier, more metropolitan version of A Prairie Home Companion that takes place in the fictional Raven’s Park, Chicago, but comparisons to a smarter Saturday Night Live (sans Gilly) or the Carol Burnett Show would be just as apt. To grasp even further into the past for an analogy, if The Artist can bring back silent black-and-white movies, CLS just might resurrect the radio play.

“We thought the podcast would be a great way to reach a younger audience that doesn’t go to live theater,” says Jennifer Youle, a member of the CLS writing, acting and producing troupe. “But people really like to come to see the live show.”

Good luck getting a ticket. Just six months into its existence, CLS routinely sells out shows (BYOB, a suggested $10 donation at the door) weeks in advance, due in no small part to Transistor’s limited seating capacity. Cast members have even had to turn away family and friends asking for comps.

“We didn’t want a theater, we didn’t want to be on a stage,” says Matt Lyle, CLS artistic producer, head writer and host. “We wanted to feel like we were inviting a bunch of friends over.”

In a way, that’s how CLS formed. Much of the company, including Lyle and his wife Kim, hail from or spent time in Texas, connecting through the Dallas Children’s Theater or Bootstraps Comedy Theater, which the Lyles co-founded and re-located to Chicago in 2008. Most of the writers and performers have theater and/or improv backgrounds, and most also have day jobs.

“When I first got out of school, I auditioned for everything,” says Lyle, who works as a box office supervisor at Steppenwolf Theater. Now that he and his fellow CLS cast members are more settled, the once-a-month shows offer a way for them to come together creatively without the commitment of a six- or eight-week theatrical run.

The process of pulling a show together typically involves an initial writers meeting that’s more of a brainstorming session. Certain elements recur every month, like a reading of and commentary on Craigslist’s “Missed Connections.”

“We do a lot of rewriting,” says Lyle, a graduate of Second City’s sketch writing program. “Then we get the actors involved and then we rewrite again.” During two quick rehearsals the week of the show, some bits might not even receive a once-over, he notes, which helps keep the material fresh.

The result is a mash-up of social commentary, musical interludes, storytelling and general silliness that’s surprisingly sincere. “I can watch Jon Stewart just rip into people but I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Lyle says of his more gentle style. “We’re all from Texas, we’re all polite people.”

With irony the predominant feature of American culture — infiltrating everything from television to t-shirts to facial hair — CLS is the rare form of entertainment (Parks & Recreation also springs to mind) that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. “A heart is exactly our aim,” says Lyle.

Which doesn’t mean he’s without ambition for City Life Supplement. “You can’t help but dream,” he says. “I’d love it to be kind of a staple when you think of Chicago.”

After producing six shows in a row, CLS is taking a break over the summer and returning in September. In the meantime, you can catch up with podcasts online and put your name in the running for tickets to the next live show.

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