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More sketchy than before
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

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In the run up to the 11th annual Chicago Sketch Festival, its executive producer, Brian Posen, is mostly concerning himself with what he calls "traffic patterns."

Posen also wears the hat of artistic director of the recently renovated Stage 773, previously known as the Theatre Building Chicago. And though Posen had produced the Chicago Sketch Festival ( a.k.a. Chicago SketchFest ) in the venue before, this the first time he's been able to produce everything in the venue following its almost $2 million transformation in 2011.

"It's like a brand new theater—smells like a new car," Posen joked, explaining how the complex changed this year from three 150-seat theaters to four spaces: two 150-seat venues ( nicknamed "The Thrust" and "The Pro" ) with an 80-seat black box ( nicknamed "The Box" ) and a 70-seat cabaret ( nicknamed "The Cab" ) .

So essentially there's the expansion of four comedy troupes performing at the same time, plus all the logistics of when and where to program them and getting them all on and off without any major clogs or accidents—hence Posen's "traffic patterns" analogy.

"Our first night of Thursday, Jan. 5, will reveal a lot to us and we'll be like, 'Oh, this works, that doesn't and we need to change that,'" Posen said about the Chicago SketchFest, which runs through Jan. 15.

Another challenging bit of planning for Posen was selecting which sketch comedy troupes would be performing out of nearly 250 submissions ( the festival's highest number the ever received ) . Making the cut were 138 local, national and international sketch comedy groups that will offer up 162 total performances.

"It kills me to turn away groups, but at the same time we had a great pick of such awesome groups," Posen said. "The bar is higher and the quality is excellent so that if anyone comes off the street and picks any one of the 138 groups, you're going to have a good show."

Posen admitted that in the early years of Chicago SketchFest, there weren't so many sketch comedy troupes around so every group got a performance slot, even if their shows were just thrown together. But in the ensuing years, Posen said the art form of sketch comedy has only grown in quality and popularity, so he's happy now that Chicago SketchFest gets to pick and choose the best of the best.

Early on in Chicago SketchFest's history, there was plenty of diversity thanks to Posen reaching out to troupes like Stir-Friday Night! ( Asian-American sketch comedy ) , Salsation Theatre Company ( largely Latino sketch comedy ) and GayCo Productions ( LGBT sketch comedy ) . These three troupes are back again this year, while other diverse troupes have also helped fill the ranks of Chicago SketchFest.

Seth McCormick is a member of Quixotic, which bills itself as a "gay themed sketch comedy company with a multi-orientation perspective." McCormick and his fellow Quixotic troupe members are super excited to be making their Chicago SketchFest debut after applying for the past two years and not making the cut.

"Both for me as a performer and for our company, it's a level of recognition," McCormick said. "This is kind of a nice cap to our most successful year."

Throughout the history of the Chicago SketchFest, Posen has insisted that all the performers can get in for free to see each other's shows, even though he has to repeatedly fight with his fellow board members on that financial sticking point. However, Posen said this aspect of Chicago SketchFest partially explains why the festival is so strong—because the sketch artists can learn and grow from watching each other's work. Also, how else to explain why so many talented troupes come to Chicago in the dead of winter?

"Some of these groups are dropping a couple grand just to come here just to be part of this festival," Posen said. However, he reasoned that "we have this great complex and we have this vibe that is so welcoming and is so much fun."

In addition, there's the sheer variety of sketch comedy forms out there that are all gathered together under the roof of Stage 773.

"You can see every form of funny," Posen said, noting how some troupes can be overly political while others dabble in musical cabaret, pantomime and puppetry, too. "We offer hours and hours of laughter, which is so important nowadays that we come together that way."

The 11th annual Chicago Sketch Festival runs Jan. 5-15 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $14-$15; call 773-327-5252 or visit or .

Even more laughs

The Chicago area recently welcomed two new venues for comedy.

The Second City has opened the new Up Comedy Club, which is located at Piper's Alley in the space formerly occupied by the long-running interactive dinner comedy Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding.

Second City President Diana Martinez said there's a lot of potential in this lushly appointed cabaret-style "hybrid comedy club" that seats nearly 300. Martinez said she hopes the Up Comedy Club will be a multi-use home to standup comedy, children's theater, improvisational comedy troupes, comedy podcasts and some daytime programming to cater to large tour groups.

"The space sort of evolved out of need to find a place to do all the things we loved to do for our amazing talent," Martinez said. "I think it's going to be revolving, changing content that comes out of that space."

The Up Comedy Club is located on the third floor at 230 W. North Ave. Call 312-662-4562 or visit for more information.

Also new to the scene is The Laughing Chameleon, a 75—seat variety club that recently opened in at The Glen Town Center in Glenview. The venue books comedy, magic and variety acts and also offers a bar and small-plate restaurant service. For more information, call 888-685-2844 or visit .

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