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Chicago Improv Festival 

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"Improv as Theater," the theme of the ninth annual edition of this sprawling showcase of performers from around the world, links improvisation to its roots and emphasizes its potential--and rightly so. When Viola Spolin taught character games to the folks who went on to found Second City, she called the form improvisational theater. This year's CIF jury members selected participants who exhibit an inclination to experiment beyond standard short-form sketch comedy and long-form montage, including actors, writers, monologuists, dancers, musicians, and video artists. Special focus is placed on interdisciplinary work, as well as emerging talents from high schools and colleges. As CIF executive director Jonathan Pitts says, "The act of improvising is the act of creating." The fest also honors the memories of veteran actor and original Compass member Hamilton Camp, Athenaeum Theatre executive director Fred Solari, local entertainment journalists Allan Johnson and Mark Sinclair, and director-performer Jim Zulevic. • The Chicago Improv Festival runs through 4/30 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. Auxiliary events take place at the Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted; the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; and Loyola University, Kathleen Mullady Memorial Theatre, Centennial Forum, 6525 N. Sheridan (enter at 1125 W. Loyola). Admission ranges from free to $30; some shows are restricted to persons 18 and over (see listings below). Tickets to shows at the Athenaeum can be purchased through Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or www.ticketmaster.com) or at the box office; tickets to events at other venues must be purchased at the box office on the day of the show. For general festival information, call 773-935-9810 or visit chicagoimprovfestival.org.

THURSDAY 27

Name Change Pending

This West Palm Beach trio presents Extreme Improv, a program of "dangerous" games. a 6:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, patio (weather permitting). F

Waiting for Ennis Cotter The Boston-based trio performs a slice-of-life comedy set in a bar. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Hurricanes Are Funny The Cold Towne Heroes, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, present a sketch show. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

R Whirled News Tonight, The Williamson Playboys, and Bassprov with Mo Collins

The festival's main-stage opening night features the hilarious improvised comedy Bassprov, starring Chicago's Joe Bill and Mark Sutton as two pals on a fishing trip. As small-town Hoosiers Donny Weaver and Earl Hinkle, Sutton and Bill while away their time in Donny's bass boat, drowning worms, popping beers, shooting the breeze, and chatting with whoever happens to be sharing the boat with them. For this performance they're joined by original MADtv cast member Mo Collins. (JHe) Whirled News Tonight satirizes current events. The players exhibit a genuine rapport: articulate dialogue unfolds logically, swiftly, and concisely. (MSB) Also featured: Toronto's Williamson Playboys. Jordan Peele and Becky Drysdale host. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $30; 18+.

PoetrySportz and Oslo Improvisasjonsteater

Chicago's ComedySportz presents "PoetrySportz," featuring improvised poetry presented in competition. Also on the bill: Norway's Oslo Improvisasjonsteater. a 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, bar. F; 18+.

The Midnight Hellhouse

Jen Ellison directed this send-up of evangelical Christian haunted houses that use scenes of sinners in hell to scare visitors into "piety." a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

R Play

Second City alum Dan Bakkedahl takes time off from The Daily Show to star in an improvised two-act play. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

FRIDAY 28

Improv Forum

Local improv hotshots, including Annoyance Productions alum Mark Sutton and I.O. head honcho Charna Halpern, take part in a Q and A with celebrity participants to be announced. a 11 AM-3 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, third-floor studio. $5.

CIF Lunchbreak

The Josh and Tamra Show, from New York, features "improv with furry puppets." a 12:15 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Cafe. F

Name Change Pending

See listing for Thu 4/27. a 6:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, patio (weather permitting). F

Reality World and Switchboard

Two improv groups, from Seattle and New York respectively. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

The Brothel and Sutton and Hallal

Chicagoans Mark Sutton and Stacey Hallal share a bill with New York's Brothel ensemble. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Biscuitville and Big News

LA's Big News satirizes current events; Biscuitville hails from Washington, D.C. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $15; 18+.

R Slap Happy and Horatio Sanz All-Stars

The Horatio Sanz All-Stars, headlined by Second City alum and Saturday Night Live performer Horatio Sanz, also feature Jerry Minor, Brett Gilman, Ed Furman, Jack McBrayer, and others to be announced. Also on the bill for this all-ages show is Toronto's Slap Happy. Mo Collins hosts. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $30.

45 Kings, O.U.I., and Dangerbox

Loyola University's 45 Kings headline a program of college improv groups. Also featured: O.U.I., from the University of Oklahoma, and New York University's Dangerbox. a 7:30 PM, Loyola University, Mullady Theatre. $5-$10 (Loyola students free).

Rachel Hamilton, Full Frontal Nudity, and Tami Sagher

New York-based Second City alum Rachel Hamilton and LA-based MADtv writer Tami Sagher share a bill with Full Frontal Nudity, an ensemble from Columbus, Ohio, featuring Warren Johnson, son of the late Tribune critic Allan Johnson. a 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, bar. $15; 18+.

R Die-Nasty! and Triplette

The three-woman troupe Triplette blows through pretensions with wildly creative, laugh-out-loud sketches. (JV) Also on the bill: Die-Nasty!, from Edmonton, Canada. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

R Bad Dog Theatre Company and Messing With a Friend

Local improv wonder woman Susan Messing improvises with MADtv's Ike Barinholtz. The program also features Toronto's Bad Dog Theatre Company. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Danse Macabre and Carl and the Passions

Two Chicago groups share a bill. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $15; 18+.

Screwbuki and Then Again

Honolulu's Screwbuki performs improvised Kabuki theater. Then Again features VH1's Adrianne Frost and Andy Eninger. Mo Collins hosts. a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $20; 18+.

B-Roll: Fact or Fiction, Double Play, and KevInda

Two Chicago groups, Double Play and KevInda, share a bill with New York's B-Roll: Fact or Fiction. a 10:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, third-floor studio. $10; 18+.

Me Likey and Greg Shapiro

Amsterdam-based ex-Chicagoan Greg Shapiro is paired with Toronto's Me Likey. a 10:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, bar. $10; 18+.

CIF Super Cage Match Championship

Improv teams in competition, with the winners chosen by audience vote. Participants include locals I.O., Annoyance Productions, and DSI and visitors Team Canada, the Pit, UCBT, and the Bad Dog Theatre Company. a 10:30 PM-1 AM, Playground Theater. $10.

Unscripted Theater and Cook County Social Club

San Francisco's Unscripted Theater shares a bill with Chicago's Cook County Social Club. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $10; 18+.

R Let Them Ho's Fight and Pimprov

The four improvisers in Chicago's Let Them Ho's Fight set a blistering pace in ever sharpening bits. (RH) Pimprov proves it's hard out there for a pimp--especially in improv. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $10; 18+.

5 Man Job and Instant Theater Company

Minneapolis's 5 Man Job is paired with Vancouver's Instant Theater Company. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $10; 18+.

SATURDAY 29

Name Change Pending

See listing for Thu 4/27. a 6:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, patio (weather permitting). F

Cherry Bomb and COG

New York's Cherry Bomb includes VH1's Adrianne Frost. COG features performers from I.O.'s Los Angeles outpost. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Dr. Fantastic and The Josh and Tamra Show

Dr. Fantastic hails from Washington, D.C. See Fri 4/28 "CIF Lunchbreak" listing for The Josh and Tamra Show. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Reading Robin and Rasika and Ragdolls

Chicago's all-female Ragdolls share a program with Reading Robin and Rasika, featuring MTV personality Rasika Mathur. a 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $15; 18+.

CIF High School Festival

This showcase of teen improv groups includes Chicago's Underage Sugar Addicts, Oak Lawn's Laughing Aardvarks, Libertyville's Improv Playhouse, the groups Improv This! and Improv That! from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and others, along with guest pro group Storybox Theatre. a 7 and 9 PM, Playground Theater. $5.

c MADtv Night

MADtv cast members Ike Barinholtz, Keegan-Michael Key, Michael McDonald, Nicole Randall Johnson, Arden Myrin, Crista Flanagan, Danielle Gathur, Jordan Peele, and Frank Caeti share an all-ages evening with a collective of the show's writers. Mo Collins hosts. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $30.

Implosion College Comedy Showcase

Showcase of college groups including Northwestern University's Titanic Players, the University of Chicago's Off-Off Campus, and the Farce Side from Arizona State University. The program also features The Beatbox, Dirty South Improv's no-holds-barred mix of hip-hop and improv comedy. a 7:30 PM, Loyola University, Mullady Theatre. $5-$10 (Loyola students free).

Eddie Capshaw Tonight!, The Mike and Duane Show, and Jean Villepique

New York-based Second City alum Jean Villepique shares a bill with Minneapolis's Eddie Capshaw and Chicago's The Mike and Duane Show, which features improvised and scripted rock operas. a 8 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, bar. $15; 18+.

Box Fans and Johnny Lunchpail

The Box Fans hail from Denver, Johnny Lunchpail from New York. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $15; 18+.

Improsia and Razowsky and Clifford

LA-based ex-Chicagoans David Razowsky and Cara Clifford are paired with Seattle's Improsia duo. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $15; 18+.

On the Spot and Elephant Larry

New York's Elephant Larry shares a bill with On the Spot, a five-person Samoan troupe from Honolulu. a 9 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $15; 18+.

Imp and Four Square

Imp offers physical comedy--"improv without words." Four Square features The Daily Show's Dan Bakkedahl and Saturday Night Live's John Lutz, Peter Grosz, and Rob Janus. Mo Collins hosts. a 10 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, main stage. $20; 18+.

Implosion College Comedy Showcase

Loyola University's Genesius Players share a program of college improv with We Brake for Nobody from Bucknell University, IMPROVment from Case Western Reserve University, and Suspicious of Whistlers from Washington University in Saint Louis. a 10 PM, Loyola University, Mullady Theatre. $5-$10 (Loyola students free).

Child's Play, Canadian Content, and WIRT

Child's Play hails from Plantation, Florida. Also on the bill: Vancouver's Canadian Content and WIRT from Washington, D.C. a 10:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, third-floor studio. $10.

Rudy, Cupcake, and Dave Pompeii

Second City alum Dave Pompeii shares the stage with Toronto-based Rudy and Seattle-based Cupcake. a 10:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, bar. $10; 18+.

Galapagos and Shecky Kulhan: Theater of the Mind

There's a fine line between being selfish and smug and playing someone who's selfish and smug--and Bob Kulhan crosses it many times in this sometimes hilarious, sometimes just plain awful comedy show. As writer, director, and star of most of the sketches, he proves the truth of the Martin Short/Jiminy Glick Theorem: you can't continue to get laughs just doing the same bit. In Kulhan's case it's impersonating his conceited, no-talent showbiz alter ego, Shecky. (JHe) Also featured: Galapagos from Phoenix. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, first-floor studio. $10; 18+.

JoKyR and Jesster and Annoyance Productions

Chicago's Annoyance Productions shares a bill with Salt Lake City's JoKyR and Jesster. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio. $10; 18+.

Teen Movie High and Big Black Car

Two New York-based groups perform. a 11 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, Lookingglass space. $10; 18+.

SUNDAY 30

3 for All, Chairs, Big News with Emo Philips

The closing-night headliner, LA's Big News, presents a satirical sketch show with Emo Philips. CarniKid Productions' Chairs begins with a death (whose is determined by a quick game of musical chairs), then the events preceding the death are acted out by the ensemble. Every time I've caught the show, first performed in 2002, I've been struck by its immediacy and sense of urgency--qualities that virtually guarantee strong, honest laughter or tears. (JHe) Also on the bill are San Francisco's 3 for All. Mo Collins hosts. a 7:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre main stage. $30; 18+.

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