The fifth edition of this annual celebration of the art of improvisational comedy brings together more than 1,000 performers from around the U.S. and abroad. (Chicago artists, of course, are 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, an adult-oriented “Blue” show, a series of daytime Lunchbreak performances (presented in conjunction with the city’s cultural affairs department), and numerous special events, including forums and workshops. The fest is dedicated to the memories of two recently deceased performer-director-teachers, Byrne Piven and Avery Schreiber; they will receive posthumous lifetime achievement awards, as will two other deceased notables, the Second City’s Martin DeMaat and ImprovOlympic’s Del Close, and three people still living: Bernie Sahlins, Sheldon Patinkin, and Joyce Sloane, described as “the triumvirate responsible for putting the Second City on the map.” Other awards will be presented to Stephnie Weir (female improviser of the year), Colin Mochrie (male improviser of the year), the Upright Citizens Brigade (ensemble of the year), and Schadenfreude (CIF Festival Highlight Award).
The Chicago Improv Festival runs April 1 through 7, with events at four principal venues: the Athenaeum Theatre (main stage and second-floor studio), 2936 N. Southport; ImprovOlympic, 3541 N. Clark; WNEP Theater, 3209 N. Halsted; and the Playground, 3341 N. Lincoln. Auxiliary and special events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center (Randolph Cafe, Claudia Cassidy Theater, and studio theater), 78 E. Washington; the Second City, 1616 N. Wells; and the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the Athenaeum box office; tickets to events at the other venues must be picked up at the box office on the day of the show. For general festival information, call 773-862-5082 or visit www.cif.com.
Following is the schedule for April 1 through 4; a complete festival
schedule is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.
MONDAY, APRIL 1
The Noble Fool Theatre Company offers a midday comedy set. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
The festival officially starts with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a performance by improvisers from the U.S., Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and Japan. The event climaxes with a special set featuring local professional improvisers and celebrity amateurs. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM. Free; donations will be accepted for Gilda’s Club Chicago.
TUESDAY, APRIL 2
The all-female ensemble Sirens offers a midday comedy set. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
Digital Video Night
A collection of 10 to 12 short DVDs, including films by Saturday Night Live’s Adam McKay and Mad TV writer Rich Talarico, will be screened at 7 PM. At 9 PM there’ll be a special presentation of The Delmonic Interviews, a one-hour tribute to the late improv guru Del Close. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater. $5 suggested donation.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3
Mission Improvable offers a midday comedy set. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
Super Cage Match Championships
Improv teams from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto compete in a series of one-on-one rounds; winners are chosen by audience vote, and the winning team receives a trophy (plus a six-pack of Goose Island beer for each member of the group). ImprovOlympic, 7-10 PM. $5.
Byrne Piven Tribute
The late director and teacher Byrne Piven will be memorialized with a performance by kids from the Piven Theatre Workshop’s Young People’s Company. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM. Free; donations will be accepted for charity.
Avery Schreiber Tribute
The Moving Targets, an LA-based comedy group founded and directed by legendary Second City alum Avery Schreiber, pay homage to their late mentor with a program of sketches and games. WNEP Theater, 10:30 PM. Free; donations will be accepted for charity.
Felicia and the Great Quebec
The festival hosts the premiere screening of an improvised movie directed by Jonathan Appel and featuring Adam McKay and Ian Roberts. ImprovOlympic, 10:30 PM. $5.
THURSDAY, APRIL 4
The Asian-American ensemble Stir-Friday Night! offers a midday comedy set. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
Jane, Lo Roim M’Meter, and The Second City
The Mainstage series kicks off with Chicago’s Second City troupe, Tel Aviv’s Lo Roim M’Meter, and a reunion set by the fondly remembered all-female ensemble Jane, as well as a salute to Jane alum Stephnie Weir, who will receive an award as female improviser of the year. Also being honored tonight are Martin DeMaat and Del Close. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $20-$25.
Shramker and WNEP Theater
The Fringe series presents an evening of “improvised German angst” by Chicago’s WNEP folks and Los Angeles’s Shramker. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $10.