Chicago is well known for its cutting-edge improv comedy. This year, the Windy City will be well represented by this double bill featuring some of the town's most accomplished players.
Rebecca Sohn likens improv, at its best, to the exquisite patterns writ in sand by some Zen Buddhist monks; the inherent impermanence of the art form only makes it more captivating.
"You create this beautiful thing of the moment," she says. "There's this heightened awareness you experience when you're improvising, just living in the moment, and it's amazing to me how that spontaneity in a group can create something completely unique on stage each time."
Sohn (The Annoyance, BATS), along with Debra Downing (UCB Theater, Second City Chicago) and Jean Villepique (The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock), is part of Switchboard, a musical comedy experience that is as vibrant with dance as it is with wit.
"We improv songs, but not in a typical way," she says. "Think more rhythmic than lyrical. We try to stay within the rhythm of the moment we're creating."
Beginning with the premise of the cast making connections on a telephone switchboard, the show spirals off into terra incognito based on word suggestions from the audience. The rhythmic movements, songs, and elements of dance are all part of the story being told. The idea is that the way the characters move and interact through their shared space says as much about who they are as the words being spoken.
The group began at iO Chicago (formerly ImprovOlympic), was part of Second City's 50th Anniversary gala, and has toured nationally, performing at venues like The Annoyance of Chicago, Magnet Theater of New York, and Improv Asylum of Boston.
Suffice to say, this is one Switchboard that knows a little something-something about making all the right connections.
Sitting at the Grown Up Table
Eric Hunicutt plans to eat when he arrives in Charleston for the Comedy Festival.
"I'm from the South," Hunicutt says. "I actually got married at the very tip of North Carolina, not far from North Myrtle Beach, on the beach at sunset. So I plan to come to see the ocean and eat as much Southern food as I can while I'm there."
While he is not otherwise engaged feasting on the good eats we so surely have in abundance, he will be sharing the stage with fellow The Reckoning (Chicago's longest running long form group) cast member Holly Laurent for a brand new show about the trials and tribulations — as well as the glories — of living and loving as newlyweds.
"We'll probably do one preview in Chicago the weekend before, just to make sure that we know all the words," he says with a laugh. "But the shows in Charleston will actually be the first time we've done the show with a set script."
Not that Hunicutt is nervous about this, of course.
"I'm a big fan of self-deprecating humor. When you're on the comedy stage, it's one of the few times that your mistakes become valuable. Making other people laugh is not something you regret."
"Sitting at the Grown-Up Table is a show about being married and the things that lead you to that decision. How you get there is never how you thought you'd get there, and what happens when you're there is never what you expected."
Expect a lot of funny stuff to really hit home with this one. After all, those early days of settling in with another person, sharing the slings and arrows of life as a duo rather than as a solo act, is something to which many of us can relate.