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Chicago Improv Festival

Now in its second year, this annual celebration of the art of improvisational comedy runs April 6 through 11, bringing together members of the improv scene from around North America for a week of performances and workshops. Featured out-of-towners this year include the Groundlings, LA's leading improv ensemble, in their Chicago debut; the formerly Chicago-based Upright Citizens Brigade (now stars of their own show on cable TV's Comedy Central); Minneapolis's Brave New Workshop in a return visit; New York's Burn Manhattan, led by former Chicago director Shira Piven; Montreal's On the Spot; and many more. The home team, meanwhile, includes current and former members of the Second City, ImprovOlympic, the Free Associates, the Annoyance Theatre, the Factory Theater, ComedySportz, GayCo Productions, the Black Comedy Underground, Sheila, Schadenfreude, and the Zeitgeist Theater, among others. There'll also be a tribute to improv guru Del Close, to whose memory producers Frances Callier and Jonathan Pitts have fittingly dedicated the festival.

Main-stage events take place at the Annoyance Theatre, 3747 N. Clark; second-stage events are presented at ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark. Call 773-782-4720 for performance information and reservations, or purchase tickets on-line at www.cif.com. Tickets for performances range from $10 to $20; shows start at 8 PM every night, with additional shows at 10:30 PM and midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Besides the performances, an "improv education extravaganza," scheduled for April 9 through 11, features workshops and a bus tour of significant sites in the history of Chicago improv. Activities are led by such noted folks as director-teachers Sheldon Patinkin, Josephine Raciti Forsberg, Charna Halpern, Mick Napier, Dexter Bullard, and Shira Piven, Second City producer Kelly Leonard, screenwriter Denise DeClue, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Registration for the weekend is $150; interested persons should call 773-862-5082.

The Reader runs festival listings on a week-by-week basis; following is the schedule for April 6 through 8.

TUESDAY, APRIL 6

Colin Mochrie (see Critic's Choice) and The Devil's Advocates, Baby Wants Candy, and ComedySportz Mochrie, seen on the American and British versions of the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, teams up with the Toronto-based Devil's Advocates for The History of Improv!, a 45-minute tour of improvisation from the Middle Ages to the millennium. ImprovOlympic's resident team Baby Wants Candy is a group of "bright, energetic, seasoned performers [who] create fully improvised one-act musicals" based on audience suggestions, says Reader critic Jack Helbig. And ComedySportz presents an evening's worth of short improv games, played for laughs by two teams in competition. "[This] is not a show for improv purists: the audiences are too noisy, the pace is too fast, and the players sacrifice much of what's loved about improv--cultural exploration, unintentional magic, the surprise of self-discovery--for the sake of keeping things moving. But for anyone who gets tired of improv that fizzles like a wet firecracker, the hyper world of ComedySportz, whistle-blowing referee and all, is . . . funny and winning," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Annoyance Theatre, 8 PM. $15.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7

GayCo Productions, Abby Schachner, and Aha!

GayCo Productions' comedy revue Everyone's Coming Out, Rosie!, which focuses on gay and lesbian themes, "delivers a ton of lavender-laced laughs," says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. Performance artist Abby Schachner, an alumna of Second City's touring troupe and the all-woman ensemble Jane, portrays "a middle-aged lesbian from the Ukrainian Village [neighborhood]," according to a press release. And Bailiwick Repertory's resident improv group Aha! satirizes the gay urban experience. Annoyance Theatre, 8 PM. $15.

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

Celebrity Improv Jam, Free Associates, and Factory Theater

Tim O'Malley hosts the "Celebrity Improv Jam," an improv set featuring local veterans Aaron Freeman, Will Clinger, Rose Abdoo, Matt Dwyer, and Holly Wortel, plus special guests to be announced. The Free Associates present Chancing at Lunacy: The Completely Improvised Irish Country Play, their spoof of Irish playwright Brian Friel; Reader critic Lawrence Bommer calls the show "an antidote to the gorgeous blarney" of Irish theater, adding: "The . . . improv doesn't always rise above the more stupid audience suggestions. . . . But the style, accents, metaphorical overkill, and lyrical gush [are] beyond reproach." And the Factory Theater presents The Factory All-Stars Late Night Fiasco, with Factory actors playing roles from White Trash Wedding and a Funeral, Alive, and other Factory shows. Annoyance Theatre, 8 PM. $15.

Scott Adsit, Mick Napier, and Dave Pasquesi

This trio of Second City alumni team up for what a press release gingerly calls an "unpredictable performance." Annoyance Theatre, 10:30 PM. $10.

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