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updated: 3/28/2014 12:04 PM

Improv festival brings acts far and wide to Chicago, Schaumburg

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  • Mary Lorenz is an ensemble member of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival, and it will also host other short-form improvisers from around the country (and New Zealand) at the Woodfield Mall.

      Mary Lorenz is an ensemble member of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival, and it will also host other short-form improvisers from around the country (and New Zealand) at the Woodfield Mall.
    COURTESY OF LILLIAN FRANCES/LAUGH OUT LOUD

  • The Improv Bandits from Auckland, New Zealand, make a return to the Chicago Improv Festival. The Improv Bandits perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 2-3, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago, and are also on the bill with Red-Headed Stepchild at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg.

      The Improv Bandits from Auckland, New Zealand, make a return to the Chicago Improv Festival. The Improv Bandits perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, April 2-3, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago, and are also on the bill with Red-Headed Stepchild at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg.
    Courtesy of Chicago Improv Festival

  • Chris Day and Joey Cranford are ensemble members of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival.

      Chris Day and Joey Cranford are ensemble members of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival.
    COURTESY OF SCOTT MCMILLAN/LAUGH OUT LOUD

  • Rocky Williams, left, Stefan Gearhart and Parker Bowles make up Damaged Goods. The improv troupe from Louisville, Ky., returns to the Chicago Improv Festival with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 3, at Comedy Bar Chicago and at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at the Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg.

      Rocky Williams, left, Stefan Gearhart and Parker Bowles make up Damaged Goods. The improv troupe from Louisville, Ky., returns to the Chicago Improv Festival with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 3, at Comedy Bar Chicago and at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at the Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg.
    Courtesy of Chicago Improv Festival

  • Matt Walsh, a native of Darien and one of the founders of Upright Citizens Brigade, will perform at the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival at the UP Comedy Club in Chicago.

      Matt Walsh, a native of Darien and one of the founders of Upright Citizens Brigade, will perform at the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival at the UP Comedy Club in Chicago.

  • "Saturday Night Live" veteran and Naperville native Paul Brittain appears with Jet Eveleth as part of the Chicago Improv Festival at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at the Second City e.t.c. in Chicago.

      "Saturday Night Live" veteran and Naperville native Paul Brittain appears with Jet Eveleth as part of the Chicago Improv Festival at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at the Second City e.t.c. in Chicago.

  • Cast members of Red-Headed Step-Child, a troupe from the Nashville Improv Company in Tennessee, perform on the same bill with The Improv Bandits at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg as part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival.

      Cast members of Red-Headed Step-Child, a troupe from the Nashville Improv Company in Tennessee, perform on the same bill with The Improv Bandits at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Laugh Out Loud in Schaumburg as part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival.
    Courtesy of Chicago Improv Festival

  • Cabaret Improtempo from Brazil's Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival. Cabaret Improtempo performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago and 10 p.m. Friday, April 4, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Instituto Cervantes in Chicago.

      Cabaret Improtempo from Brazil's Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival. Cabaret Improtempo performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago and 10 p.m. Friday, April 4, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Instituto Cervantes in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo

  • Cabaret Improtempo from Brazil's Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival. Cabaret Improtempo performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago and 10 p.m. Friday, April 4, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Instituto Cervantes in Chicago.

      Cabaret Improtempo from Brazil's Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival. Cabaret Improtempo performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at ComedySportz Theatre in Chicago and 10 p.m. Friday, April 4, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Instituto Cervantes in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Cia de Teatro Contemporâneo

  • Chris Day and Joe Burton are ensemble members of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival, and it will also host other short-form improvisers from around the country (and New Zealand) at its location at the Woodfield Mall.

      Chris Day and Joe Burton are ensemble members of Laugh Out Loud Theater. The Schaumburg-based comedy troupe is part of the 17th annual Chicago Improv Festival, and it will also host other short-form improvisers from around the country (and New Zealand) at its location at the Woodfield Mall.
    COURTESY OF SCOTT MCMILLAN/LAUGH OUT LOUD

 
 

Local residents have earned the right to be a bit smug when it comes to boasting about Chicago's impact on comedy.

After all, famous comedians like Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Bill Murray and Wheaton's Belushi brothers honed their comic chops in Chicago-area sketch or improvisational comedy theaters like The Second City.

So it makes sense that the Chicago Improv Festival, now in its 17th edition from March 31 to April 6, can lure acts from across the globe each spring. The majority of improv troupes audition and compete to travel hundreds -- even thousands -- of miles to attend workshops and to perform at the festival's dozen-plus intimate venues scattered around Chicago and in Schaumburg.

"Chicago's legacy with comedy, especially with improv, is so great I think to a certain extent that Chicagoans have every right to be arrogant," said Parker Bowles, a member of the improv troupe Damaged Goods from Louisville, Ky., which is making its second festival appearance in Chicago and Schaumburg. "But personally, I've never run into that ... The people are nothing but accepting and nothing but gracious hosts. They do their absolute best to make you feel like you're not an out-of-towner."

And far be it for performers in Chicago improv troupes to behave like know-it-alls. Just one aspect of an international event like the CIF is that it encourages cultural and creative idea exchanges when it comes to creating funny stuff on the spot.

"The diversity of the festival, in all different kinds of ways, I'm quite impressed by," said CIF artistic director Kevin Mullaney.

He notes that there are international troupes from Italy, Brazil and New Zealand. In addition, there is diversity in the acts themselves since the festival was restructured a couple of years ago around more defined improv categories and genres including short form, long form, musical, experimental and even puppetry.

Mullaney says that competition to get into the festival can be fierce, particularly in the long-form category. So to give up-and-coming performers a better chance, the Chicago Improv Festival added an emerging artists category and also expanded its open stage program of free shows.

Mullaney is proud of CIF's headliner acts this year, particularly the appearance of Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Darien native Matt Walsh in CIF's closing show. The three -- along with Amy Poehler -- are the original founders of the influential Los Angeles and New York improv comedy powerhouse Upright Citizens Brigade.

"I knew that I wanted to bring UCB in one of these years, and when they released their book last August, I knew this would be a really great year to bring them in," Mullaney said, glad that the promotional book tie-in opportunities for "The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual" worked as a CIF lure. "When I contacted them I was hoping to get two of the three guys who wrote the book, but I'm really excited that all three of them are coming."

Other major headliners include "Saturday Night Live" alum and Naperville native Paul Brittain (performing with Jet Eveleth), "SNL" veteran and Second City alum Horatio Sanz (performing as part of the Comedy All Stars) and Second City alum Dan Bakkedahl ("The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," "Veep") performing with Annoyance Theatre co-founder Ed Furman as part of the show "Trainwreck."

But CIF also offers plenty of opportunities to see rising talent, too. Naperville resident Rose Ryan, 34, works as an English teacher at Schaumburg High School for her day job. But Ryan is making her CIF debut as part of The Church of Saturday Saints, a troupe that got its start as a yearlong music improv conservatory class at The Second City Training Center.

"We're going to be improvising a deconstructed musical," Ryan said, adding that musical theater improv as a genre is a growing part of the comedy community. "We'll take the suggestion of a name of a town that doesn't exist from the audience, and then that will be our location for our musical and everything will revolve around that."

In addition to performing, Ryan will try to see as many shows as possible.

"Every time that we have groups come out, we see something new, we learn something new," said Lillian Frances, owner of Schaumburg's Laugh Out Loud Theater. "For our audiences, it's just a really fun weekend because we have a lot of regulars who come to see our shows. And so CIF is a way for them to see other groups from around the world and the country in a fun, festive atmosphere."

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