The fifth 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, 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 influential 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 through April 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 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; the Village, 1548 N. Clark; 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.
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 a reunion set by the fondly remembered all-female ensemble Jane, as well as a salute to Jane cofounder Stephnie Weir, who will receive an award as female improviser of the year. Warming up for Jane: Chicago’s Second City troupe and the Tel Aviv-based trio Lo Roim M’Meter. 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 Los Angeles’s Shramker ensemble in “an evening of improvised German angst,” and Chicago’s WNEP Theater presents Soiree Dada, an evening of Dada-style performance. “Erratic in tone and abstract in content–as it should be–Soiree Dada may be most provocative in demonstrating how acquiescent audiences are even when facing a chaotic and confrontational performance,” said Reader critic Jenn Goddu when she reviewed the show’s earlier run. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $10.
FRIDAY, APRIL 5
FuzzyCo offers a midday comedy set. Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe, noon. Free.
The Second City hosts an afternoon of discussions and performances. At 3:30 PM, Rob Kozlowski discusses his new book on long-form improvisation; at 4 PM, Adam McKay fields questions from the audience and screens short films he’s made for Saturday Night Live; at 5 PM, Scott Adsit and Robert Dassie perform; at 5:30 PM, there’ll be a performance of Quartet featuring T.J. Jagodowski, Paul Grondy, Jean Augustine, and a special guest. Second City, 3:30-6 PM. $5 (audience members can come and go at will).
LA Theatresports, Annoyance Productions, and Noble Fool Theatre Company
The Mainstage series presents Los Angeles’s LA Theatresports, which will perform Shakespearean improvisation; the warm-up acts are Chicago’s Noble Fool and Annoyance folks. At this performance, the festival will bestow lifetime achievement awards in recognition of Byrne Piven and Avery Schreiber. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $20-$25.
Atlantis, Unexpected Productions, and Chicago Comedy Company
The Showcase series presents the Chicago-based Atlantis ensemble in The Subject, a long-form improvisational theater piece exploring the relationship among memory, fantasy, dream, and reality. “Atlantis raises the bar [for improv] in this show, which is meant to be not only a fully improvised . . . play . . . but a dreamy, hallucinatory, serious work full of flashbacks and memories that later, if the performers are skilled and lucky, form a meaningful story. [The] night I caught the show it was moody, moving, and beautiful,” says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Also on the bill is a local group, the Chicago Comedy Company, and Seattle’s Unexpected Productions, which will present Campfire Tales, an exercise in scary and comic storytelling. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio, 8 PM. $10-$15.
Rebecca Drysdale and Friends, The Undecideds, and Those Guys
The New York-based Drysdale, an alumna of Boom Chicago, and Toronto’s Undecideds appear with Chicago’s Those Guys (four boys from ImprovOlympic) as part of the Sketch series. Playground, 8 PM. $10-$15.
Centralia and Plasticene
Chicago’s physical-theater ensemble Plasticene (in its first public attempt at improvisation) and New York’s Centralia troupe appear as part of the Fringe series. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $10.
Matt Besser, Kurt Braunohler,
and Jonathan Appel
Three New Yorkers perform under the auspices of the Solo series. Appel will adapt the persona of an Italian filmmaker to lead the audience in the creation of an improvised movie; Braunohler performs a one-man Harold; and Besser, cofounder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, presents his solo show Don’t Be a Dick. ImprovOlympic, 10 PM. $10.
Oui Be Negroes, Paper Monkeys, and Galileo Players
The Sketch series presents two Chicago groups, Paper Monkeys (a core group of writers whose material is performed by–gasp!–hired actors) and the Galileo Players, which Reader critic Jenn Goddu calls a “smartly creative sketch-comedy [group that] shows what happens when science geeks/class clowns take the spotlight.” Headlining the bill is a homecoming appearance by Oui Be Negroes, a multiracial troupe whose members relocated from Chicago to San Francisco a few years back. Playground, 10 PM. $10-$15.
Centralia and 500 Clown
Chicago’s 500 Clown theater company opens this Fringe performance with an improvised commedia dell’arte version of Our Town. Headlining the show is New York’s Centralia ensemble. WNEP Theater, 10 PM. $10.
Schadenfreude, Mission Improvable, and Yellow Man Group
Chicago’s Schadenfreude troupe, which Reader critic Jenn Goddu calls a “high-caliber company . . . that hilariously combines smart satire, cynical observation, and originality,” headlines this Mainstage show, during which the group will receive its CIF Festival Highlight Award. Also appearing are another local ensemble, Mission Improvable, and Tokyo’s Yellow Man Group (see Critic’s Choice). Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 10:30 PM. $20-$25.
The Impatients, Armando Diaz’ Evente, and The Knock Your Socks Off Players
The Impatients hail from Toronto, the Knock Your Socks Off Players from Salt Lake City. This Showcase performance also features Armando Diaz’ Evente, a long-form improv piece that focuses on an event in a person’s life and the repercussions it has on other characters. “Few things are harder to pull off than long-form improvisation. [Those] who enjoy seeing characters and situations developed out of thin air should appreciate this clever ensemble’s proficiency,” said Reader critic Kim Wilson when she reviewed Armando Diaz’ Evente’s original run. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio, 10:30 PM. $10-$15.
WeirDass, Jagodowski & Pasquesi, and Sheila’s Sister
The Duo series presents a program of two-person shows by LA’s Sheila’s Sister (a spin-off of the now-defunct Chicago team Sheila), Chicagoans T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, and former Chicagoans Stephnie Weir and Robert Dassie. ImprovOlympic, 10:30 PM. $5.
Members of the WNEP Theater and ComedySportz’s The Hot Karl get together for a program of adult-oriented improv intercourse. Admission is restricted to persons 18 and older. Playground, midnight. $10.
Yellow Man Group and Stir-Friday Night!
Japan’s Yellow Man Group (see Critic’s Choice) and Chicago’s Asian-American Stir-Friday Night! team up for an improv jam as part of the Fringe series. WNEP Theater, midnight. $10.
SATURDAY, APRIL 6
Colin Mochrie & His Canadian All-Stars, The Improv Bandits, and ComedySportz
Mochrie, who’ll receive the male improviser of the year award at this Mainstage show, will perform long-form improv with a team of Toronto and Chicago Second City alums. Also appearing are the Improv Bandits from Auckland, New Zealand, and Chicago’s ComedySportz with its competitive brand of improv. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $20-$25.
Amnesia Wars, ImprovBoston, and Y.F.F.
The Showcase series presents Amnesia Wars, a New York group that combines improv and traditional theater. Also on the bill are comedy ensembles from Boston and Detroit. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio, 8 PM. $10-$15.
Adrianne Frost, Lisa Jolley, and Jen Ellison
The Solo series presents Ellison (artistic director of Chicago’s WNEP Theater) on a bill with New Yorkers Jolley (who performs improvised cabaret music) and Frost, who performs an improvised solo piece about a woman’s lifetime arc. ImprovOlympic, 8 PM. $10.
Barenholtz & Meyers, Stir-Friday Night!, and Brick
LA’s Ike Barenholtz and Josh Meyers headline this Sketch show; also on the bill are two Chicago groups, the all-Asian-American Stir-Friday Night! and the ComedySportz ensemble Brick. Playground, 8 PM. $10-$15.
The Doubtful Guests and Plasticene
Chicago’s physical-theater ensemble Plasticene opens this Fringe show for the LA-based headliner, the Doubtful Guests, who take their name from a book by Edward Gorey. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $10.
Jill Benjamin, Matt Kaye, and Andy Eninger
Benjamin, an alum of Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago troupe, performs Playing Dumb With Jill Benjamin. “Benjamin is smart, talented, and funny, but the humor of Playing Dumb remains specific to the assumptions and experience of a mildly disaffected participant in the young urban mating rituals she sends up. To be fair, ideological cousins like Sex and the City prove how widely appealing such narrow material can be, and the audience laughed a lot the night I attended. Still, this show reinforces more stereotypes than it illuminates,” says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Also in this Solo set: the Chicago Comedy Company’s Eninger and Chicagoan-turned-Los Angeleno Kaye. ImprovOlympic, 10 PM. $10.
The Doubtful Guests and 500 Clown
See listings for 10 PM Friday (500 Clown) and 8 PM Saturday (the Doubtful Guests). WNEP Theater, 10 PM. $10.
Improv All Night
This comedy marathon features performers from around the country. Playground, 10 PM (box office opens 6 PM) until 6 AM Sunday. $5.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
Once based in Chicago, the Upright Citizens Brigade–honored by the festival as ensemble of the year–now operates its own theater and training center in New York. At this performance, the UCB will present a long-form improv show, Asssscat. Opening this Mainstage show is Mother, whose show Wanna Sleep Over? is described as “a character-driven exploration of one audience suggestion”; Armando Diaz directs. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 10:30 PM. $20-$25.
Bassprov!, Pavlov’s Dogs, and All Jane No Dick
Chicagoans Joe Bill and Mark Sutton play two pals on a fishing trip in the comedy Bassprov! This Showcase set also features Dallas-based Pavlov’s Dogs, which will improvise “the lives and times of a small town in western Texas,” and All Jane No Dick, a three-woman team from Portland. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio, 10:30 PM. $10-$15.
Centralia and The Doubtful Guests
The Fringe series presents a late-night jam by these visitors from New York and LA, both spin-offs of the defunct improv group Burn Manhattan. WNEP Theater, midnight. $10.
SUNDAY, APRIL 7
Martin & Orloff
Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and Katie Roberts wrote and star in this film comedy about a suicidal man and his shrink. Lawrence Blume directed; the movie also features Andy Richter, Matt Besser, and Amy Poehler. Village, 1 PM. $10; $5 with a ticket stub from Saturday’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show.
Lo Roim M’Meter
This Israeli ensemble performs an entirely improvised show in Hebrew. Chopin Theatre, 7 PM. $5.
Mad TV Writers on Hiatus, Slap Happy, and Baby Wants Candy
Chicago’s Baby Wants Candy, a regular prime-time attraction at ImprovOlympic, opens this closing-night Mainstage program; this group of “bright, energetic, seasoned performers…create[s] fully improvised one-act musicals” based on audience suggestions, says Reader critic Jack Helbig. The Toronto-based Slap Happy performs games and long-form improv. The program’s headliners, a pack of writers from LA, will bite the hand that feeds them by performing “banned” sketches penned for Fox TV’s Mad-TV series. At this event lifetime achievement awards will be handed to Bernie Sahlins, Joyce Sloane, and Sheldon Patinkin. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 8 PM. $20-$25.
Drunk Baby Collective, Respecto Montalban, and Sirens
The Showcase series wraps up with a performance by Minneapolis’s Drunk Baby Collective; New York’s Respecto Montalban (the official touring company of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre), which will present its sketch show When Amish Attack; and Chicago’s all-female Sirens ensemble, who are “as enticing as their name suggests,” says Reader critic Jennifer Vanasco. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio, 8 PM. $10-$15.
Second Helping, Maximum Party Zone, and Infinite Monkeys
The Sketch series closes with a program featuring teams from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Playground, 8 PM. $10-$15.
Well-Hung Jury and The Pup At Theatre
Austin’s Well-Hung Jury performs a set of experimental improv to close the Fringe series. Also on the bill, Chicago’s Pup At Theatre, an adult-oriented puppet troupe, performs P.Imps. Show, which incorporates improvisational techniques and audience suggestions. “[The] spontaneity generated by playing off audience suggestions makes for considerable originality and swift-paced action, [which highlights] the primitive, playful creativity that lies at the heart of make-believe. These hand-jive wizards fashion magic from the most threadbare raw material,” says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. WNEP Theater, 8 PM. $10.