Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Stand-up Comedy at the Second City Training Center

3220792013_2bcf949179Second City’s Training Center has cranked out some amazing comedy talent: Tina Fey, Mike Myers, and Stephen Colbert just to name a few. However, none of the luminary alumni are stand-up comics, and that is not what the theater or the training center is best known for creating.

Recently, though, the Second City training center has added stand-up comedy to its list of available classes. There is a teen program for ages 13-17 (which has a spring session beginning Saturday April 18), and an adult class taught by amazing Chicago comedian Dan Telfer.

The training center’s stage, Donny’s Skybox Theater, even has stand-up performances on Sundays. Comedy at the Don is a weekly showcase of local stand-up, sketch, and improv. You can check that out on Sundays at 9:30pm for only $5. Donny’s Skybox Theater is located on the fourth floor of Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells.

Who knows? Maybe a current student will be the next big stand-up star.

(photo from Elizabeth McQuern)

A Tough Break for a Chicago Theater Favorite

According to Ron Kuzava, Will Schutz is one of Chicago’s two greatest living character actors. The other, according to Ron, is Ron himself. Apparently they pass the title back and forth. Ron is a very silly man. However, I cannot argue with the idea that Will is indeed one of the finest actors in the city, and simply an awesome guy. I first saw him in Defiant Theatre’s Action Movie: The Play as one of the most over-the-top ridiculous Blofeldian villains I have ever seen on stage.

I finally met Will (and Ron, for that matter) in 2004 while working on Defiant’s production of A Clockwork Orange. Will had a small role in the show, but it was the kind of part that you loved to watch from the wings because it was so damned hilarious every time.

I next worked with Will in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 2007. I could not help but admire his stamina as Watson. He never left the stage for the entire show and as the narrator carried at least three-quarters of the total load of dialogue. And his dialect was dead on.

A few weeks ago Will was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Like so many of us, Will does not have health insurance. He is keeping positive and has vowed to fight this with all he’s got. He could use, and certainly deserves, all the help he can get. A few events have been planned around the city to help out with expenses during this difficult time, including a benefit at Sofo Bar (4923 North Clark Street) on Sunday, February 7 and a one-night only concert reading of Robert Emmet Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Abe Lincoln in Illinois at City Lit on Thursday, February 12th.

A fund has been started online for Will. If you have a few bucks to spare, please go to to help out.

Eugene Mirman Weekend

Stand-up comedian Eugene Mirman will be in Chicago this weekend to record a new comedy album at The Lakeshore Theater this Friday and Saturday at 10PM. I am a fan of Eugene Mirman’s highly imaginative comedic monologues. I became an even bigger fan after watching his coverage of the Republican National Convention this year. So if you too are a fan, you might want to head over to the threadless website. There you can submit questions to Eugene who will be hanging out at Threadless tomorrow afternoon.

Eugene Mirman
November 7th and 8th
Lakeshore Theater
3175 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL

(photo from the Eugene Mirman myspace page)

Shameless Self-Promotion – Fall ’08 Edition

I have three projects going on that I’d like to tell the world about. First, come see me in Lifeline Theatre’s remount of The Mark of Zorro, currently running at the Theatre Building at 1225 W. Belmont. The show runs Thursday through Sunday, with two shows on Saturday. Tickets are $30, and the show runs through November 23rd.

Second, Shakesploitation! opens at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.) this Friday. The show features three one-act parodies of plays by William Shakespeare, with fight choreography provided by Yours Truly.

And third, next Saturday, October 18th, you should come by the Playground Theater (3209 N. Halsted St.) at midnight for Atomic Nerdery, a celebration of all things geeky hosted by Chicago Metblogs’ very own Dan Telfer. Aside from some great stand-up, sketch comedy, live music, puppets and film, this evening will also feature the debut of The Gentleman Rogues, a new stage combat/comedy duo featuring myself and Ryan Zarecki.

See you at the theatre! A good time shall be had by all!

Get some music, and comedy on the cheap TONIGHT!

I love comedy, I love music, I love odd ball stuff. Tonight I’m hosting a show that combines ALL of my loves. It’s a show called Blewtenanny! It’s from Blewt! productions who brought you the hit comedy game show Don’t Spit the Water and the current hit talent compitition at the Lakeshore Theater called Impress These Apes.

The show is at 11pm tonight at the Strawdog Theater (3829 N. Broadway) and is only $5. Tonight’s show will have two amazing Chicago stand-up comics: Chad Briggs, and Robert Buscemi. The night’s music comes from the amazing Samantha Cathcart, and the odd ball stuff will come from professional prankster Ken Barnard (the guy who protested the filling of the Montrose sink hole).

If that line-up does not sell you then perhaps some philanthropy might sway you. The Strawdog Theater has a bar with inexpensive beers. By buying the inexpensive beers at the Strawdog’s bar, you help support the non-profit artistic endeavors of the Strawdog Theater. Yup, by drinking beer, you support the arts. Never been easier to do good.

Strawdog Theater
3829 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL

Here’s some stand-up highlights from a Blewtenanny! back in July (NSFW because of language):

(picture of Ken Barnard performing at Blewtenanny! from Erica Reid)

Superior Dounts


I’m about to be a horrible tease — Superior Donuts is only playing at Steppenwolf through this Sunday (August 24) and tickets are very hard to come by. But it’s an amazing piece of theater and if there’s any way you can see it, you should.

Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael McKean) runs a donut shop in Uptown that his father opened nearly 60 years ago. In walks Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill), a brash young African-American man who talks himself in a job. With just a few other characters, a neighborhood is sketched in. The plot is minimal, and perhaps the few missteps of the play are when it tries too hard to give “stakes” to the action — I would have been happy to just watch those characters talk and learn about their lives. And, delightfully, it’s hilarious. And so very, very Chicago. I give it 10 stars and 5 thumbs up!

(Donuts photo by ReneS)

Two Chances to Laugh and Raise Money for Charity

What could be an easier way to contribute to charity then watch a comedy show? How about if that show has some of Chicago’s best stand-up comedians in it. Boom! I’m sold.

This Friday at 9 PM, amazing Chicago comedian Carrie Callahan will be hosting a benefit comedy show called “Easier Then Running a Marathon”. It takes place at the Lincoln Restaurant (home of the famous comedy showcase The Lincoln Lodge) at 4008 N. Lincoln. The cost is only $10 and all proceeds go to AIDS research.

Then, Saturday is “Angel’s Farewell Show”. This is a send off to much beloved Chicago comedy super-fan Angel Busque. The show will feature her favorite Chicago comedians which means for only $10 you can see Jason Fever [The Mockumentals], Brian Potrafka [Doug Stanhope’s The Unbookables, author of “Small & Wrong”], Dan Kaufman (The Bob & Tom Show), Sean Flannery (producer and co-host of the Internet radio talk show the Visitors Locker Room), David Kovac (Performed at the request of Mayor Richard M. Daley for the 73rd Annual U.S. Conference of Mayors), Ricky Carmona (HBO Latino), Brendan McGowan (Chicago Underground Comedy), CJ Sullivan (Visitors Locker Room, Chicago Tribune’s Red Eye), Renee Gauthier (Victoria Beckham: Coming to America), Cayne Collier (producer of Chicago’s longest running stand-up showcase, the Elevated), hosted by local favorite Bradley Fojas (NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity). Plus, all the money goes toward Lupus Foundation of America, Illinois Chapter. Doors for this show open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8 PM.

Want to see "Sexy Jesus"?

Sure. Why not?

Then head over to Stage Left Theater on Saturday at 12:30am to see comedy group pH Productions show pHRENZY pHUCKED which will be hosted by Sexy Jesus from the new movie Hamlet 2.

Tonight, the talented cast of pH will begin their Hamlet 2 theme by doing their hit comedy show pHamily The Musical as the West Mesa High School Drama Department from the movie. The Friday show starts at 11pm at Stage Left Theater (3408 N Sheffield Ave), and both shows are $10.

The Chicago Theater Database

When asked to describe the new Chicago Theater Database, co-creator Dan Granata often throws out the simple explanation, “It’s like the Internet Movie Database, but for Chicago theatre.” However, Mr. Granata is quick to point out that it is meant to be much, much more. The CTDB’s mission statement describes it as, “a reference for the present, a record of our collected history, and a sustainable resource for building the next stage.”

Begun in the spring of 2007 as a personal project, the Chicago Theater Database, currently in beta, is now poised to become the central source for all information relating to the city’s theater community. Unlike the IMDb, however, the CTDB is intended less for archival purposes and more as a tool for today’s artists.

“There’s so much going on,” Mr. Granata said, “but nobody knows about it because it’s all so disparate.”

Mr. Granata began compiling the original data out of curiosity, starting with the big theaters like the Goodman and Steppenwolf and expanded from there. He hit a snag, however, when his computer crashed and all the data was lost. “I was basically depressed for about two months.” Then local performing arts trade publication PerformInk released their annual season preview. Using the raw data from the preview, Mr. Granata began the project again. This time he expanded the fields to include things like theater companies’ budget and non-profit information.

Mr. Granata made mention of the project on his blog, I, Homunculus. The blog later received a mention in a Time Out article, which caught the attention of sound designer Nick Keenan, whose own blog, Theater for the Future, was also mentioned. Mr. Keenan expressed an interest in the database project through a comment on I, Homunculus. Having been “called out,” Mr. Granata began work in earnest, this time partnered with Mr. Keenan, who even took the time to learn a new coding language. Since then the project has grown exponentially, and the CTDB has even partnered with PerformInk to produce the next season preview.

Among some of the features Mr. Granata hopes to include in the database is a calendar of opening, strike and rehearsal dates, and also venue availability. Mr. Granata hopes that having all of this information in a central location will help bring about a new era of Chicago theater. “I feel bad,” he said, “because we burn out so many young actors who could do better if they were armed with some basic information.” The community still operates on a “Steppenwolf mentality,” in which so many artists come here straight out of college with the intention of forming a company, but none of them have a real grasp of the current state of theater in the city. “It just doesn’t work with two hundred fifty companies.”

The Chicago Theater Database is now open to public viewing, although it is still in the early beta stages. The rest of the summer will be spent collecting data and ironing out issues such as how to list festivals, and how to handle name changes. According to Mr. Granata the team hopes to have the database “largely functional” within the next couple of months. Until then, the site is available to look around on, and see what data has been collected so far.

The Mysterious Elephant and the Terrible Tragedy of the Unlikely Addington Twins (*Who Kill Him)

Nobody does plays like the Strange Tree Group does plays. How do you define the stuff these guys do? Just listen to the title of their newest work, written by Strange Tree’s resident playwright Emily Schwartz:

The Mysterious Elephant and the Terrible Tragedy of the Unlikely Addington Twins (*Who Kill Him).

There’s just no pigeonholing a title like that. An Edward Gorey vibe permeates everything they do, certainly. Like last year’s extraordinary Mr. Spacky . . . The Man Who Was Continuously Followed by Wolves, The Mysterious Elephant features heightened dialogue and a Victorianesque setting juxtaposed with hilarious musical numbers and a sly awareness that the characters are in fact in a play. After just two full-length productions, the Strange Tree Group have created a style (shall we call it Schwartzian?) that, should anyone else attempt something similar, they would be accused of ripping off Strange Tree.

The Mysterious Elephant introduces us to the Addington Twins, Esther and Edward (the well-matched Carol Enoch and Matt Holzfiend). These orphans have inherited a mansion from their recently deceased Aunt Ernestine (Jennifer Marschand, hilariously severe in a 180-degree turn from her role in Mr. Spacky a year ago). At the house the twins encounter a strange Narrator (Weston Davis) who has been chronicling the fortunes of the Addington family for centuries. The twins’ adventure introduces them to a number of their dead ancestors, most notably Christoff, a re-animated corpse who just wants to be loved. Scott Cupper’s scene-stealing turn here is one of the highlights of the show.

And of course they meet the titular Elephant, a giant clockwork beast and family heirloom. The elephant (yes, there is an elephant on stage) is a hell of a creation, with a patchwork design that makes it look like a giant, well-loved stuffed animal. It is actor-operated by Thomas Zeitner, who also plays accordian as part of the musical ensemble. When you see the show (are you going to see the show? Go see the show!) take a moment during intermission or something and get a look at the elephant up close. The layout of the space does not allow a really good view of it during the performance.

I’m always a fan when a show chooses to embrace the knowledge that its audience is watching a play, rather than try to cover its tracks and pretend it is a movie or something. The plot of The Mysterious Elephant takes that notion and runs with it, with all of its characters being keenly aware of the fact that they are characters, and that their fates depend upon the twists and turns of the story in which they find themselves. Director Carolyn Klein reinforces this in her staging, as when Mr. Zeitner is added ceremoniously to the elephant contraption during the overture.

The Strange Tree Group is, hands down, my favorite company in Chicago right now. Go see their show. It runs at the Chopin Theatre until July 19th. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else.

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