Improvisational comedy–developed in Chicago in the 30s and 40s by Viola Spolin and popularized in the 50s and 60s by her son, Second City cofounder Paul Sills, among others–experienced a growth spurt in the late 80s and early 90s. Second City’s long monopoly on improv was first challenged by upstart companies such as ImprovOlympic and the Annoyance Theatre. Then the city was flooded with talented performers and directors determined to prove wrong the Second City dogma that improvisation was mainly a way to generate material for comedy sketches. Soon companies like Ed, Jazz Freddy, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Cardiff Giant, as well as ImprovOlympic and the Annoyance, were coming up with idiosyncratic variations on long-form improv and improv-based comedy. Improvisers trained in or inspired by the Chicago scene can now be found all over the country–including on TV, especially cable–with escalating frequency. Yet here at home there’s an anxious lull, as many of the most talented performers leave town for higher-profile possibilities on the east and west coasts. Which makes this a good time to gather the tribes–to see how far improv has come, what others have done with the form, and where it might go next. This festival features an impressive array of performances by local improvisers as well as visitors from New York, LA, Minneapolis, Portland, Amsterdam, and elsewhere; also on the agenda are workshops and talks by such notables as Del Close, Keith Johnstone, Mick Napier, Martin de Maat, and Tim Kazurinsky. –Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Sheila photo by Kenneth Lee.