The fourth edition of this annual celebration of the art of improvisational comedy brings together performers from around the U.S. and abroad. Current and former Chicagoans include members and alumni of the Second City, ComedySportz, the Upright Citizens Brigade, Schadenfreude, Annoyance Productions, and ImprovOlympic. In addition to the performances there'll be discussions, forums, workshops, and a minifestival of improvised "movies."
The Chicago Improv Festival, produced by Chicagoan Jonathan Pitts and LA-based Second City alum Frances Callier, runs through May 6, with events at five venues. The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, serves as the festival's main stage; tickets for shows there cost $20 (except where noted otherwise) and can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the box office. The Playground, 3341 N. Lincoln, will host the festival's "Showcase" performances; tickets for these shows are $15 and can be purchased only at the Playground box office the day of the show. The WNEP Theater, 3209 N. Halsted, will house a marathon "Improv 'Til Dawn" on May 5; tickets for that event are $5 and can be purchased only at the WNEP box office the day of the show. Festival passes, good for all performances at the Athenaeum, Playground, and WNEP, cost $100; they're available at the festival's Web site, www.cif.com, or by calling 773-395-8440.
Additional events will take place at the Second City, 1616 N. Wells; Northwestern University Settlement House's Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (third floor); and the WNEP Theater. Prices for events at these locations are shown in the listings below; visit the festival Web site or call the festival office for more information. The Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln, will function as the festival's official bar, hosting postshow parties and serving discounted drinks to audience members and performers.
THURSDAY, MAY 3
Slotnick Katz & Lehr
Joey Slotnick, Lauren Katz, and John Lehr, LA-based alumni of the fabled Chicago comedy group Ed, are joined by Toronto's Sin City, which performs a fully improvised soap opera, and the Yellow Man Group, two women and one guy from Tokyo. John Bolger hosts. Athenaeum Theatre, 8 PM.
FRIDAY, MAY 4
The Second City hosts a day of discussions and performances. From 1 to 4 PM, there'll be short talks with Chicago improv leaders, including Second City producer Kelly Leonard, ImprovOlympic producer Charna Halpern, Annoyance Productions' Mick Napier, the Free Associates' Mark Gagne, ComedySportz's Dave Gaudet, Noble Fool Theater's Jack Bronis, and the Playground's Doug Diefenbach. At 4 PM, there'll be a Q&A with actor-producer Jeff Garlin moderated by Scott Adsit. At 5 PM, there'll be a performance of The Silent Movie, in which actors create short plays in the style of silent one-reelers, with a film projector providing the only lighting. "Silent-film fans and anyone looking for a merry exercise in expert improv will be well served by this enormously engaging, very clever hour, [which] takes an easy target . . . and turns it into a delightful romp," says Reader critic Erik Piepenburg. The afternoon wraps up with a 5:30
PM show by Georgia Pacific, an ImprovOlympic team that performs long-form improv in the dark. Second City, 1 to 6 PM. $5 (audience members can come and go throughout the day).
Improv Performance & Workshop
The Free Associates lead an interactive family event. WNEP Theater, 2 PM. $10; $5 for children.
Second City Alumni, Annoyance Productions, and ComedySportz
This year's appearance by alumni of the Second City is organized into two parts: the first features Second Citizens from the 70s and 80s performing games and scenes, and the second features alums from the 90s doing long-form improv. Among those scheduled to appear are Will Clinger, Rick Thomas, Mick Napier, Dave Pasquesi, and Matt Dwyer. The program also includes an original multimedia show created for the occasion by the Annoyance gang and a competitive improv set by ComedySportz. Angela Shelton hosts. Athenaeum Theatre, 7:30 PM.
Jonathan Appel, Doug Diefenbach, Andy Eninger, Lisa Jolley, Shaun Landry, and Abby Schachner offer a program of one-person performances. Playground, 8 PM.
Schadenfreude, Baby Wants Candy, and Mission Improvable
The Chicago-based sketch ensemble Schadenfreude (see Critic's Choice) is joined by ImprovOlympic resident team Baby Wants Candy, which performs improvised one-act musicals, and the touring group Mission Improvable. Angela Shelton hosts. Athenaeum Theatre, 10 PM.
Land of the Karaoking Improvisers, Liquid Radio Players, and Sirens
Land of the Karaoking Improvisers features the music-comedy troupe Moctis improvising scenes based on karaoke songs selected by the audience. "Other, less seasoned improvisers would probably have made a hash of this format, but Moctis was able to turn out surprisingly rich scenes: their ratio of funny to unfunny bits was remarkably high. Even more impressive were their occasional serious character-based improvisations," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. The program also features Chicago's all-female troupe Sirens and the Liquid Radio Players from Hollywood. Playground, 10 PM.
The Dana & Julia Show, 3 Guys Named Joe, and Postmortem
This highly diverse program features Dana Goodman and Julia Wolov of Annoyance Productions performing sexually explicit sketch comedy; 3 Guys Named Joe, an improvisational rock band from Detroit; and the WNEP Theater Foundation's show Postmortem, inspired by Michael Apted's film series "7 Up," which has actors improvising a chronological account of a person's life based on his newspaper obituary, focusing on the legacy the decedent left to his or her survivors. "This sort of improvisation isn't solely devoted to making the audience laugh easily and often--although there are funny moments. . . . Conveying wit and drama in a truly human manner, Postmortem successfully mines a concept that could easily have been exploitative," says Reader critic Jenn Goddu. Playground, midnight.
SATURDAY, MAY 5
Beer Shark Mice, WeirDass, and On the Spot
Beer Shark Mice, featuring Saturday Night Live refugee Dave Koechner, is based at ImprovOlympic West in LA. WeirDass features Chicagoans Stephnie Weir and Robert Dassie performing scenes. On the Spot hails from Montreal. John Bolger hosts. Athenaeum Theatre, 7:30 PM.
Dinner for Six, Waterbrains, and Whose Chorus Line Is It Anyway?
Dinner for Six features actors improvising a romantic comedy using fortune-cookie parables as suggestions. In their "plausible, nuanced, engrossing performances, [the actors] convey a quiet, convincing rapport and intimacy from the moment they appear onstage, and there are no false moves in this graceful, balanced ensemble effort," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Waterbrains, a septet from LA, performs an improv mid-form called "Clap-Ins." In Whose Chorus Line Is It Anyway?, actors improvise a musical based on audience suggestions. "What makes this band of improvisers, directed by Lori McClain, stand out is how well they play together as a team. . . . These guys are clearly having a blast onstage, and the excitement is infectious," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Playground, 8 PM.
Improv 'Til Dawn
The Noble Fool Theater Company hosts a marathon featuring seasoned and emerging improv troupes, including "insta-teams" composed of Chicago Improv Festival workshop students. The event is organized into two-hour slots. Scheduled for 8 to 10 PM: the Rooftop Players and Noble Fool Theater, both from Chicago; Improv Boston; and the insta-teams Danger Kitty, Neon Brown, and Screaming Puppets. 10 PM to midnight: South Side Irish and Mr. Fancypants, both from Chicago; two Kentucky companies, the Louisville Improvisers and Bowling Green's Happy GAS Improv; Omaha High; and the insta-team Love Rocket. Midnight to 2 AM: Chicago's Black Sheep and Cheetarah McNutt; the Washington [D.C.] Improv Theatre; the University of Arizona's Comedy Corner; and the insta-teams Left Field and Road Trip USA. 2 to 4 AM: Noble Fool Theater and Plain Cake Donuts from Chicago; the Kihckercast Project from New York; the University of Arizona's Charles Darwin Experience; and the insta-teams Rhinoceros and Beer Goggles. 4 to 6 AM: Chicagoans Joe Bill and Mark Sutton; the Orphans from New York; two troupes from Detroit, YFF Improv and Iburnwheniimprov; the Knock Your Socks Off Players from Salt Lake City; the Probable Team from Winnipeg; and the insta-teams King Kong and We Like Vivarin. WNEP Theater, 8 PM to 6 AM.
Asssscat, Two White Guys, and People of Earth
The Upright Citizens Brigade, formerly of Chicago and now based in New York, is joined by Kevin Dorff and Steve Albini for its long-form show Asssscat. Two White Guys features Jordan Peele (a black guy) and Rebecca Drysdale (a white woman). People of Earth, the house team at ImprovOlympic, specializes in the Harold and long-form improv. Athenaeum Theatre, 10 PM.
¡Salsation!, GOGA, and Carl and the Passions
¡Salsation! is an all-Latino comedy group whose "sharp-edged timing and concentration make [its material] funny and thought provoking," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. GOGA, whose name stands for "Girl on Girl Action," is a five-woman troupe from New York. Carl and the Passions is a Harold team from ImprovOlympic. Playground, 10 PM.
May I Help You . . . Dumbass?
Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade performs a multimedia solo show featuring secretly recorded audio- and videotapes to examine the roots of irrational anger. Athenaeum Theatre, midnight. $10; $5 for persons seeing the 10 PM show that evening.
Weaselicious, The Swarm, and Malice
Weaselicious, a local group, performs "anti-improv"; the Swarm hails from New York, where it's a house team at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater; and Malice is a local long-form group affiliated with the Playground. Playground, midnight.
SUNDAY, MAY 6
Improvised Film Festival
This afternoon of screenings features improvisationally created short and feature-length movies. At noon: Annoyance Productions' Fatty Drives the Bus and an animated short by Mick Napier. At 2 PM: Planet Ant Productions' Garage: A Rock Saga and a live-action short by Josh Funk. At 4 PM: Sneaky Kings Productions' Dotcom: A True Story and a live-action short by the Paper Monkeys. Northwestern University Settlement House's Vittum Theater, noon to 6 PM. $5 per showing; $10 for the afternoon.
Scott Adsit, Kevin Dorff & Guests, Improv Asylum, Noble Fool Theater Company
Second City alumni Adsit (now based in New York) and Dorff (now based in LA) will be joined by a slew of comedy writers and performers. The lineup will depend on whether the Writers' Guild Association has gone on strike; call the festival for an update. Also featured in this closing show are Boston's Improv Asylum and Chicago's Noble Fool Theater Company. Athenaeum Theatre, 8 PM.