Last December, when Alon Margalit called Jonathan Pitts, the cofounder and executive producer of the Chicago Improv Festival, he casually mentioned that earlier that day a suicide bomber had killed 15 passengers on a public bus in Haifa. The day before, said Margalit, who's a member of a Tel Aviv improv ensemble called Lo Roim M'Meter, two bombers had killed ten people in a Jerusalem pedestrian mall.
"He told me that they often deal with terrorism in their shows," Pitts says. "They improvise around it and play with it and make fun of it. I thought, that's really important for us to see. Since September 11 we're still dealing with this new, horrible reality. Terrorism is a part of our world now, but we're still not sure how to cope with it."
Pitts booked the three-man group for this year's Improv Festival, its first U.S. appearance. With the country on alert against further terrorist attacks, the festival is taking certain safety precautions. "There's going to be a lot of police protection," Pitts says. But "I don't necessarily want policemen standing next to the stage, because that's a surefire way to kill comedy."
Since 1998 the festival has drawn improvisers from across the country and, occasionally, the world. "Last year, we had Tokyo's Yellow Man Group," Pitts says. "They're returning this year, along with a group from New Zealand. It's amazing that an art form that was born in Chicago...has spread out to so many different continents."
"It's my dream," he says, "to have an improv jam that uses people from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Israel, and, of course, Chicago. I think that would really be something special, a true sign of unity. I'm not saying that improv can save the world. But to get all these different cultures coming together, for no other reason than a love of improv, well, that says a lot about our common humanity."
The Chicago Improv Festival begins Monday, April 1, and runs through Sunday, April 7. Lo Roim M'Meter will perform with Second City and Jane at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, at 8 PM on Thursday, April 4; tickets are $25. The company will also perform a free show in Hebrew on Sunday, April 7, at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Call 773-227-3810 for tickets and more information; see the sidebar in Section Two for a complete festival schedule.