The seventh edition of this annual celebration of the art of improvisational comedy brings together performers from around the U.S. and abroad; Chicago, of course, is heavily represented. This year's festival, the largest yet, is divided into several series--Mainstage, Showcase, Sketch, Solo, Duo, and Fringe--as well as an all-night improv session, a series of daytime "Lunchbreak" performances (presented in conjunction with the city's cultural affairs department), forums, workshops, and numerous special events. The Chicago Improv Festival runs April 30-May 9, with events at five principal venues: the Athenaeum Theatre (main stage and second-floor studio), 2936 N. Southport; Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont; the Loop Theater, 8 E. Randolph; Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont (loft stage and studio theater); and the Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted. Auxiliary events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center (Randolph Street Cafe and Claudia Cassidy Theater), 78 E. Washington; ComedySportz, 2851 N. Halsted; and ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark. Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum and Theatre Building Chicago can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the box office; tickets to events at other venues must be purchased at the box office on the day of the show. For general festival information, call 773-935-9810 or visit www.cif.com.
Following is the schedule through May 6; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.
FRIDAY, APRIL 30
Boom Chicago, The Annoyance Theater, and ComedySportz
Amsterdam's Boom Chicago perform shows that are faster paced and more technologically hip than any on this side of the Atlantic, and its members actually seem to know more about the world than can be learned by channel surfing. Their material is peppered with original, thought-provoking observations on politics, culture, and current events. Even though it's essentially an American troupe, founded by Chicagoans and dominated by people trained in the Second City style, Boom Chicago never indulges in ugly-American isolationist thinking. (JHe) The ComedySportz ensemble offers short improv games, played for laughs by two teams in competition. With its emphasis on improv for entertainment's sake, ComedySportz isn't for everyone. Still, the formula is a winning one, and these seasoned performers play off one another's strengths exceptionally well. (NG) Annoyance Theater is the group responsible for the long-running Chicago hit The Real Live Brady Bunch. Athenaeum Theatre main stage, 8 PM. $25.
SATURDAY, MAY 1
Boom Chicago, Noble Fool Theater Company, and ImprovOlympic's Road Show
See listing for Friday, April 30, for information on Boom Chicago. Two mainstay local troupes round out the bill. Athenaeum Theatre main stage, 8 PM. $25.
SUNDAY, MAY 2
CIF Family Day
This afternoon of family-oriented programming features Piven Theatre's Young People's Company, Annex Productions, Barrel of Monkeys, Tireswing Theatre, the Classic Players, the Playground's Recess, Richards High School's Laughing Aardvarks, ComedySportz, and the Underage Sugar Addicts. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, noon-5 PM. Free.
MONDAY, MAY 3
The Noble Fool Theater Company puts on a lunchtime show. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Street Cafe, 12:15 PM. Free.
CIF Video Night
FuzzyCo will tape a live improv performance as part of this program of videos. It's hard to wrap your head around the concept of an hour-long, mostly improvised show, videotaped and projected in what comes close to real time. This show offers the chance to see something you've never seen before assembled with unrestrained enthusiasm. Since the performers don't have to worry about playing out front, they can take a suggestion and hit the ground running. (NG) Rounding out the bill are short films and videos from groups from Chicago, LA, New York, and Toronto. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM. Free.
TUESDAY, MAY 4
The Improv Bandits put on a lunchtime show. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Street Cafe, 12:15 PM. Free.
One World on One Stage
Performers from Canada, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, and Norway join their Yankee counterparts in this free-form show. Ken Nordine delivers a set of word jazz. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM. Free.
Super Cage Match Championship
Teams from Chicago, LA, New York, and Toronto go mano a mano. ImprovOlympic, 7 PM. $5.
The duo Wizard Finger--Jill Benjamin and Kara McNamara--tell personal stories; the show also features music and a guest monologuist. Theatre Building Chicago, 8 PM. $10.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 5
DSI Productions put on a lunchtime show. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Street Cafe, 12:15 PM. Free.
Lifetime Achievement Awards
This year's honorees are MADtv executive producer Dick Blasucci; Players Workshop founder Josephine Raciti Forsberg; original Second City cast member Mina Kolb; Piven Theatre Workshop cofounder Joyce Piven; and, posthumously, Second City actor-teacher Don DePollo. (A Lifetime Achievement Award will also be given to Laraine Newman on Friday, May 7, when she hosts a performance by the Groundlings.) Director Mick Napier will also receive a "festival highlight award." Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM. Free.
The New & Improved Stand-Up Show
A diverse crew of improvisers perform a series of five-minute stand-up sets based on audience suggestions. Theatre Building Chicago, 8 PM. $15.
THURSDAY, MAY 6
ComedySportz puts on a lunchtime show. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Street Cafe, 12:15 PM. Free.
MADtv Improv Jam, MADtv's Barinholtz and Meyers, and MADtv's Writers on Hiatus
See Critic's Choice. Athenaeum Theatre main stage, 8 PM. $25.
Defending Your Life, Oddacity, Koko, and Five Man Job
WNEP Theater's Defending Your Life is a series of improvised hour-long mock trials that pick up where writer-director Albert Brooks's 1991 film--a warm meditation on paying one's debts in the afterlife--left off. A deliberately paced affair without romance or sappy sentiment, the show derives much of its humor from the lightning-quick interplay between the two performers playing the defense and prosecutor roles. (NG) Oddacity, from Hamilton, Ontario, describes itself as a "fiercely sexy improv troika." Koko bases its show on drawings by the audience, and Five Man Job is a trio from Minneapolis. Theatre Building Chicago, 8 PM. $15.
One Person's Trash, Hans & Robyn, and Ferrari McSpeedy
Comedy team Hans Holsen and Robyn Norris are both attractive young people, the former exhibiting a Wodehouse-ian aplomb and the latter an elfish allure. Most of their material is pretty clever too, and what isn't is redeemed by its quirky charm. (MSB) Noah Gregoropoulos and Linda Orr constitute One Person's Trash. Ferrari McSpeedy, from Minneapolis, promise "painful moments of honesty." Playground Theater, 8 PM. $15.
Andy Eninger and Adrianne Frost, Goga, and D.I.R.T.
Andy Eninger and Adrianne Frost are from Chicago, and Goga is Karen Herr and Karen Eleanor Wight from New York. D.I.R.T. comprises Celeste Pechous, Abby Sher, and Rebecca Drysdale. Playground Theater, 10 PM. $15.
Hothouse STC's Mayfly
Hothouse Spontaneous Theatre Conservatory brings their "organic improvisation" from LA. Theatre Building Chicago, 10:30 PM. $10.