If you've been thinking about going to see one of those high-production-value Broadway in Chicago shows but find that traditional theater has you checking your watch, you may want a time-flies-while-you're-laughing dose of IO (once ImprovOlympic, now changed due to a lawsuit by the Olympic Committee). Its legendary long-form improvisational theater has been entertaining Chicago for 25 years, with a younger sibling, IO West, in Los Angeles. The theater's celebrity alumni include Mike Meyers, Tina Fey and The Upright Citizens Brigade. It has become a training ground for SNL, Mad TV and late-night talk shows.
The Cabaret theater is home to The Harold, IO's signature show, in which teams of improvisors create long-form shows from audience suggestions. The Harold is more syrupy than the fast-paced improv games showcased at other improv clubs and less jokey than the scripted satirical sketches found at Chicago's other legendary comedy theater, Second City. But the longer format lets the improvisors develop characters and storylines that are entertaining and funny without being overly formulaic.
The Del Close Theater hosts most of IO's other shows, which range from highly interactive game shows to improvised musical theater, satirical evening news and late-night talk show spoofs.
If watching the show leaves you squirming to take the stage, the Improv Jam on Saturday nights allows audience members to improvise alongside the professionals. And if you still want more, you can always sign up for one of i.O.'s training classes, including five core classes, several electives, workshops and writing courses.
Both theaters have full bars and table service. Ticket prices vary, depending on the show, with most tickets between $5 and $10. Cash-strapped improv lovers can see The Harold for free on Wednesday nights. The tables closest to the stage are prime locations if you want your ideas incorporated into the show (good pipes help, too), so get there early because the best seats fill up fast.
Current popular shows include "Armando Diaz" on Monday nights and the offerings by the group "The Hot Karl."
Centerstage Reviewer: Aimee Hall