Notable Native: Brian Posen

By Managing Editor

Brian Posen said he has redefined himself every 10 years—first as a performer, later as a director and now as a teacher who only buys local art that costs $20 or less. 

Posen, an actor and director in Chicago for more than 20 years and an adjunct faculty member in the Theatre Department at Columbia, currently serves as the head of Beginning Improvisation at The Second City as well as the artistic director at Stage 773, a venue in Lakeview that hosts performances including comedy, musicals and cabaret. 

The Chronicle spoke with Posen about his acting career, his passion for teaching and his lifelong love for Chicago.

THE CHRONICLE: You have been called one of the most influential people in Chicago theater. How do you feel about that?

BRIAN POSEN: I think it’s a big honor. I also think I have no idea of my value. I look at that and it’s like, “Oh, it’s really nice that they said that. And it’s a hell of an honor to sit next to all these other incredible artists … I don’t know if I agree with that, but it was very nice of you to say,” and then I move on. I don’t put much faith in it and I don’t frame it on my wall. I frame this horrible picture of a clown and this needlepoint of a guy on a motorcycle. That’s what I frame. 

When did you realize you wanted to pursue acting?

As I was deciding if I was going to get an MBA or go get my law degree, I took a year off and I started taking classes in 1988 at Second City. After taking a couple classes there, I started digging more into the arts, and three years later I got my master’s in acting. It was a hobby that turned into a passion, which turned into a profession. 

Was comedy always part of acting for you, or did that develop later?

It was always part of it. Art is art. I was drawn to the therapeutic aspect of the arts. After my ma died, I went, “You know what, I just want to focus on surrounding myself with laughter.” I’ve done my Shakespeare, but I like comedy. 

What obstacles have you faced in your career?  

Right now, my biggest obstacle is energy and time. I just don’t have enough time, and I’m running out of energy. I’m exhausted, but I can’t complain, because one, I’m not giving stuff up—my dreams came true. And two, I get to do some cool s–t. I’m sure you’re looking for “money,” but the real obstacles are any kind of self-doubt or time and energy. But that’s not what my obstacles were 10 years ago. 

What about Chicago convinced you to stay here?

It’s where my roots are. It’s where my family is. I love Chicago. You can’t find any city from coast to coast that’s as supportive and as group-minded like Chicago. Chicago is ensemble-based. It’s Steppenwolf, it’s Second City. [It’s about] what we can discover, it’s about us and the process. 

What has been your most meaningful teaching experience so far?

I’ve had incest survivors be able to say their parent’s name for the first time in 10 years because of what happens in class. When you get a letter from a student, or a student says they stopped drinking. I’ve seen students get married because they met in class. Every day that I walk into any classroom, I put 110 percent in because I’ve had 10 years of higher-level education, and honestly, five teachers really cared. [To be] a teacher is a huge honor. You have the potential to really affect another person’s life. Positive or negative—I’ve done both. Every day, no matter how tired or sick or exhausted, I walk in and I make sure I give those students 110 percent, even those students that are resistant or don’t want to be there. I’ve taught with teachers that said, “I’m not going to waste my time,” and I can’t believe that because I was one of those students back there.