There's hardly slim pickin's when it comes to improv theater in Chicago, but The Playground Theater does something that no one else in the country is trying its hand at: Operated by 140 actor and volunteers since 1997, The Playground Theater is the nation's only not-for-profit, co-op theater dedicated to improvised comedy. The theater's nightly shows usually feature three or four of the 14 member ensembles, with occasional guest ensembles mixed in.
If you're of the mind that improv is best experienced with a little alcohol, keep in mind that The Playground is BYOB and plan accordingly (chances are good that the guy in front of you won't want to share his PBR). Shows typically start at 8 and 10:30 p.m., with an additional midnight late show most Friday and Saturday nights. Ticket prices run $5-$12, with discounts given for students on Wednesday nights. About 40 people fit in the narrow storefront theater: It's so small that the performers can sometimes be seen in the back alley receiving their pre-show pep-talks.
In addition to making the general public laugh on a daily basis, The Playground hosts several programs for students of improv. The Incubator program schools beginning improv comedy students who are chosen from open auditions. The theater also hosts a Master's Series for experienced improv actors, as well as a program called "Recess" for children.
All improv is a little rough-around-the-edges, and The Playground is no exception. Less polished than some of the more seasoned improv venues on the North Side, The Playground features younger, fresher actors, some of whom will no doubt move on to bigger and more celebrated theaters.
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Centerstage Reviewer: Aimee Hall