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Chicago Improv Festival Gets Underway Today

By Danette Chavez in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 20, 2015 7:40PM

Sheldon, photo courtesy of Chicago Improv Festival

Although there's still some debate as to whether or not Chicago spawned modern improvisational theater, it's clear that this city had a vital role in the medium's upbringing. So it is no surprise that the oldest and longest running festival dedicated to improv, which kicks off today, was founded right here in the 606.

Now in its 18th year, the Chicago Improv Festival runs from April 20-26 with over 70 shows at 14 venues including The Playground Theater, Stage 773, Comedy Sportz Theatre, The Second City and the Public House Theatre. The offerings have been sorted into eight different artistic categories including long and short form, emerging artists, musical and, of course, experimental. Headlining acts include performances by Saturday Night Live cast member and writer (respectively) Sasheer Zamata and Katie Rich, as well as actor Lauren Lapkus (Orange is the New Black) with her improv group, Wild Horses.

If you're looking to take in more than a show, there's also a scavenger hunt commemorating The Compass Theater, the O.G. of improv theaters. And if you want to take your participation beyond a good ol' occupation suggestion, there are several workshops being offered by alums from The Second City and iO Chicago, among others.

Here are some festival highlights, but you can also check out the Curators Spotlight list available at the CIF site.

Sasheer Zamata, photo courtesy of Chicago Improv Festival
Monday, April 20: Trainwreck, Sasheer Zamata, and Phil Augusta Jackson, 8 p.m.
Second City alum Dan Bakkedahl opens for SNL's Sasheer Zamata and Key & Peele writer Phil Augusta Jackson with a tale spun from whole cloth (OK, a single audience suggestion) in his improvised play, "Trainwreck."

Tuesday, April 21: CIF18 PRIDE Night at Playground Theater, 7:30 p.m.
PRIDE Night highlights improv groups that "stand by and exemplify the positivity in equal rights, sexual diversity, and gender variances." Hosted by Ginger Forest & Diamond Devereaux, with performances by '99 Problemz: An Improvised '90s Sitcom, Buzzed Broadway, The Spotty Truth and others.

Wednesday, April 22: Los Improviachis with Zephyr, Count Spatula, and The MoonSharks at Comedy Sportz Theatre, 9 p.m.
Improv group and mariachi band Los Improviachis perform alongside Comedy Sportz house team Zephyr, Schaumburg's Count Spatula and Improv Gladiators winners The MoonSharks.

Thursday, April 23: It's (almost) all about the Emerging Artists and Public House Theater. See newcomers like Pistil & Stamen and Mr. Beaver at one of four shows at Public House Theater or head to Under the Gun Theater or Playground Theater for Gnar Gnar Shredtown or Ultimate Sin.

Friday, April 24: Improv Nerd with Rob Belushi and Jon Barinholtz at Playground Theater. 1:30 p.m.
Improv Nerd host Jimmy Carrane chats with Rob Belushi (son of Jim) and Jon Barinholtz (brother of Ike) of the improv duo Sheldon.

Saturday, April 25: Night of Change at de Maat Chicago Studio Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
This event showcases improv groups with culturally diverse performers that represent the changing face of comedy and prove that "there is improv in every direction." The lineup features COCO, The Brown Company and Bastards of the Underground.

Sunday, April 26: Jeffrey Sweet in You Only Shoot the Ones You Love at Stage 773, 4 p.m. (please note this is a CIF Special Event).
Sweet knows a thing or two about improv, having written one of the books on it: 2004's Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players. So it's fitting that this year's CIF will close out with Sweet's one-man show (originally staged at 2011's New York Fringe) about "a generation of Jews bringing teeth and cojones to American comedy."