Acting on the spot

EntertainmentTelevisionArts and CultureSaturday Night Live (tv program)Seinfeld (tv program)Colin Mochrie

The fourth annual Chicago Improv Festival kicks off on Tuesday, and with 70 groups from 15 cities and three countries scheduled to attend, this year's event may have the best lineup since the fest's inception.

"What we're saying is we have stars every night of the week," says co-creator Jonathan Pitts, "and if you look at our headliners, we do indeed have stars."

Indeed. The main stage at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., does have a killer group each night.

On Tuesday are several stars from ABC's "Who's Line Is It Anyway," including Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, plus Ian Gomez of the WB's "Felicity," who practiced improv in Chicago.

Sherwood is back on Wednesday, when he plays with his former mates on L.A. TheatreSports. Thursday's lineup includes an alumni group from Second City, plus the Annoyance Theater and ComedySportz.

Up-and-coming group Schadenfreude appears on May 4 along with ImprovOlympic's Baby Wants Candy and Mission: Improvable. May 5 features hot Comedy Central group the Upright Citizens Brigade, and UCB's Matt Besser striking out on his own with a separate show.

May 6's closing promises to be "Saturday Night Live" night, with Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Jerry Minor and Horatio Sanz, all former members of Second City.

(The "SNL" show hinges on whether there will be a writers' strike in May; if there isn't, the group will have to stay in New York to work.)

"I love the fact that we have so many people returning to the festival. I think it says something about the kind of festival that we put on," Pitts says. "I hope that says something about Chicago audiences and it says something great about Chicago improv as a whole. This really is the mecca, because people want to come here and play here."

Giving the fest a special oomph are a a lecture with Second City co-creator Bernie Sahlins; a tribute to the late Dr. Martin DeMaat, the Second City Training Center's former artistic director; and the Improv Forum, an afternoon devoted to all elements of improv, with ImprovOlympic's Charna Halpern, the Annoyance's Mick Napier and Jeff Garlin, producer of HBO's mostly-improvised Larry ("Seinfeld") David comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

"It's going to open things up to people who are curious about improvisation but don't often get a chance to hear from the people that make it or create it," Pitts says.

There will also be performances at the Playground Theatre, 3321 N. Lincoln Ave., and the WNEP Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted St. For showtimes, ticket packages and other details, call 773-395-8440.

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