Chicago Improv Festival

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Website

www.chicagoimprovfestival.org

History

(Taken from the Website) The Chicago Improv Festival (CIF) was co-founded by Frances Callier and Jonathan Pitts in 1998 as an educational forum. The festival teaches the art of improv, the history of and the potential for innovation within the art form to students of the craft, professional improv artists and the public. While other improv festivals exist around the world, several in the United States, the Chicago Improv Festival is the only festival that has been created solely for the purposes of documenting, promoting and teaching improv as an art form. The founding of the organization in Chicago, Illinois itself speaks to the organization's commitment to the legacy of improv and promoting that legacy to others.

Moderen improv began in Chicago. Its history can be traced back to 1945 when it was taught to schoolchildren at Chicago's Hull House. Improv was introduced as a way to teach the valuable skills of theater while being freed of the strictures of stage production that were often too costly to be accessible to the poor. Public performances began in July of 1955 at the University of Chicago by the first improv ensemble, The Compass. Though short lived, only existing from 1955-59, The Compass set the stage for the future of improv. This included the founding of The Second City by former Compass founder-director Paul Sills. The Second City's other co-founders were Bernie Sahlins and Howard Alk.

With The Second City improv began to expand beyond Chicago becoming a viable art form practiced throughout the world. While enabling this growth The Second City has also allowed improv to remain a present and integral part of the Chicago performance community. As improv grew with the influence of institutions such as The Second City, and Improv Olympic, improv festivals originated as a way to gather talent, provide performance opportunities, pass on techniques from improv masters and teach new skills. Over the years festivals have become an essential part of and stabilizing force for the improv community.

Despite the increasing importance of festivals to the improv world and the continuing influence and historical importance of its founding city to the art form, an improv festival had never been established in Chicago. Seeing the need to rectify this situation, two well-established improv performers Jonathan Pitts and Frances Callier created Chicago Comedy Syndicate, Inc. to produce the Chicago Improv Festival.

In its first year the festival conducted workshops, presented ensembles over several days to diverse audiences, including a special performance for disabled children. This first year established many of the aims of the festival in providing learning opportunities, presenting new, unique or master improv performers to broad audiences, including continuing the original concept behind the art form of bringing improv to audiences who might not be as well served by traditional theater.

Over the next several years the organization met these aims by presenting new and established improv ensembles during each festival to ever growing audiences, increasing the number of workshops offered to improv students and developing and fostering outreach programs. Among the artists presented by CIF have been nationally recognized improv artists and ensembles from greater Chicago, across the United States and 11 foreign countries, providing the artists the opportunity to get to know and learn from their peers. During the first seven years of the organization, the festival grew from showing 25 ensembles presented to 1,500 audience members over six nights and 75 workshop attendees to presenting 150 ensembles to 8,500 audience members over 10 nights and 300 workshop participants. This growth necessitated the festival expanding from one venue to being held in multiple locations.

In 2002 CIF presented a special outreach program in co-operation with the Chicago Sister City program bringing Israeli improv artists to perform at a Chicago Public School. In the festival's 4th year a program partnership was developed with the city of Chicago to present lectures on improv at the Chicago Cultural Center. The next year saw an expansion of this relationship to include, lunch time demonstration, a "Family Day", which includes workshops as well as demonstrations, a short film series and "One World on One Stage", that presents the international artists participating in the annual festival performing together at the Cultural Center.

As part of the 5th annual festival an award ceremony was included allowing the festival to better honor excellence and innovation in the art form and to recognize the achievements of past Masters. After the festivals 5th year, Chicago Comedy Syndicate, Inc was dissolved as a corporation.

The festival was produced in its 6th year by the sole proprietorship Arts Shaman, Inc. Feeling that the festival's goals and future stability would be better served as a not-for-profit organization Chicago Improv Festival incorporated in the state of Illinois in October of 2003.

During its 7th year the organization saw a new level of institutional stabilization, an increase in audience attendance and an expanded outreach program. In a continuing effort to increase CIF? educational outreach beyond the realm of the annual festival, in 2004 the organization developed a resident improv ensemble, Storybox that tours area grammar schools. Since starting this program Storybox has reached 3,500 school children and is expected to reach 6,000 by the end of the 2004-05 school year.

Programming having been previously centered around the annual festival, which had to date taken place in the spring, 2005 was the first year that Chicago Improv Festival's programs extended year round. During that year CIF presented the 8th annual Chicago Improv Festival, the continuation of the Storybox tour through the end of the school year and resuming at the start of the 2005-06 school year and work with the Chicago Cultural Center. That year also saw new programs including an inaugural college improv festival co-presented with another organization, participation in the City's Immersion Weekend program, the establishment of day-long improv festival for high schools, and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Compass, the first ever modern improvisational theatre troupe.

The 9th year was most noticeable by Jonathan Pitts becoming the Executive Director of the not-for-profit organization and his hiring of Mark Sutton to be the first ever Artistic Director of the Chicago Improv Festival. Jonathan also recruited a new Board of Directors, and 10 new members joined Board President David Fink. The year continued with year round educational outreach, and performances by Storybox. They changed their not-for-profit organizational name to Chicago Improv Festival Productions. They received their first ever grant, and it was from The Field Foundation.