Anne Marie Saviano: Chicagoan of the Week
Anne Marie Saviano is a busy lady. The Chicago-bred director/writer/teacher just wrapped a four-week run of the much-acclaimed sketch show Sout’side Stories: Holiday Edition, is directing a Second City student show in January, and is crafting an anticipated satire called Oprah! The Last Show! slated to run throughout February. All this while holding down her job as news writer for WGN — an Emmy-winning news writer that is. But hey, no biggie. “It’s a lot of luck,” she said with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I’m very fortunate to have this life.”
Over the course of our 45-minute chat, Saviano revealed a South Side humility that rests beneath her witty jabs at reality T.V. stars and sarcastic commentary on Cub fans. She’s a proud Chicagoan, a Queen of Peace girl to be exact, who chose to stick around her family after high school to attend the University of Illinois-Chicago. Her first career focus was (and still is to an extent) broadcast journalism, and her news-writing career at WGN sprouted in 1996 during her senior year at UIC. Over the course of that year she was a desk intern, a writing intern, and a traffic producer, which she joked was a glorified title for “sitting in front of a computer in a room the size of a closet, punching in the travel times.”
After graduation, WGN hired her as a staff writer, a position she has held ever since – and to much acclaim. She took home an Emmy a few years ago for the recurring comedy segment “Get Over Yourself.” Quite the honor, considering it was in competition with a piece by Walter Jacobson. “That was a big deal because [his segments] are always so serious, and ours was very tongue-and-cheek,” she said.
But this was more than just an honor for the young WGN staff writer. After her Emmy win, she realized she enjoyed working in comedy and wanted to continue on that path. She jokingly told me she quickly called up the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and demanded a job.
She didn’t get the writing job there. But they did offer her a production assistant gig, on which she passed. Though the Daily Show seemed like the perfect option at the time, she insists that everything happens for a reason.
About halfway through our chat Liz Bell, a writer for the writing program’s student show Saviano is directing, joined us. She’s a fitting contribution to the conversation, having acted in a handful of shows directed by Saviano. Bell recalled her first audition for a Saviano-directed production. “Anne Marie came in and was so warm and so, so nice,” she said. “My nerves went from 60 to 0 immediately. She makes actors feel safe and comfortable.” That’s not a rare compliment for the director. She said she prides herself on being an “actor’s director.”
“I have high expectations,” she explains. “But I want them to feel safe in their environment. That’s crucial.”
That wisdom came from experience. After finishing the Second City writing program in 2005, she directed a couple of her own shows before applying to the directing program a year later. But before she dove into that, she was asked to interview for Assistant Director of the Mainstage at Second City. Though she felt under-qualified, to her surprise they offered her the job almost immediately.
That was a “whirlwind experience,” she says, as she worked with a Mainstage cast that included Brian Gallivan and Joe Canale. Fast forward to 2007. Saviano was finishing her show for the directing program graduation, still writing for WGN, and as if that wasn’t enough, she snagged an Assistant Director gig for the upcoming E.T.C. Stage show, Pratfall of Civilization. But through the midst of all the joy came a dagger.
She lost her father, who she affectionately calls “Papa Sav,” in April. I tentatively probed about her father’s passing, worried about piercing a topic too personal. But she laughed excitedly when I referred to him as Papa Sav, and she joyfully recalled her pops as a guy with a “large bark but no bite.”
“My dad was one of the funniest, loudest people I’ve known,” she smiled. “Characters like him keep showing up in my shows. I think it helps keep his spirit alive.”
A month after his passing, she was given another rare opportunity: Producer of Second City Las Vegas. She admitted that, though producing a show in Vegas was an awesome experience, it reaffirmed her love for directing… and Chicago. “I was overwhelmed with happiness when I came back here [in 2008],” she explained. “I realized how much I loved and missed Chicago. Vegas was great… but I realized I need to be in the middle of the environment of creation.”
To Saviano, the center of creation is in directing and teaching: her two current loves. Well, her first love of course is the South Side. And Sout’side Stories, the sketch show that just enjoyed its second successful run in the Donny Skybox Theatre, is her love letter to the neighborhood. “The South Side is real Chicago. There’s so much heart there,” she said. “They’re just blue-collar, hard-working people. Teachers, fireman, and cops. They’re real.”
She remains grateful for the opportunity this community, specifically theSecond City, has afforded her. But she cautions students not to expect instant gratification. “Don’t train here expecting a job offer immediately. If you want to learn this craft, work hard, and kick butt, the Second City is where you need to be,” she said. “It will give you opportunities to get your work on stage, to do your own shows. And from there, who knows what may happen for you.”
Like most Chicago-trained artists, Saviano has aspirations that reach beyond the crowded comedy theatres of the Windy City. She hopes to ride the success of Sout’side Stories into the sitcom world.
“I’m living a very fortunate life. I have the same best friends I’ve had since I was five, and God bless them,” she laughed. “They come to all my shows. I’m very fortunate that I have so many loving people to support me… I love this city.”