Brian Posen interview: Sketchfest and future of Stage 773

     
     
Sketchfest Stage 773 banner Stage 773 renovations
     

 

Brian Posen discusses Sketchfest, Stage 773’s future

By Keith Ecker

Brian Posen thinks big. Just look at his brainchild, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival: In ten years time, the international sketch comedy festival has grown into the largest event of its kind in the world. In fact, this year’s is the biggest yet, boasting 129 groups and more than 800 artists. That’s a far cry from the 30-plus sketch groups the festival started off with.

But Posen’s visions of grandiosity extend beyond the world of sketch comedy. He’s a lover of all forms of performance art. Whether it’s drama, musical theater, dance, sketch, improv or stand-up, he wants to showcase it. And fortunately he has the power to do just that, thanks to his position as the artistic director of Stage 773 (formerly Lukaba Productions, formerly the Theatre Building). He’s currently planning a heavy-duty renovation of the building, splitting one of the three theaters into a cabaret space and a black box space. Ideally, the complex will become a sanctuary for all performance artists, featuring larger productions on the two main stages and smaller variety acts in the new spaces. It’s Posen’s hope this will create a "cross-pollination," with the end goal being to get theatergoers enthused to see comedy while convincing comedy nerds to see theatre.

I spoke with Posen the day before the launch of this year’s Sketchfest. We discussed the festival, cheap beer and the future of Stage 773.

             
Accidental Company - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Awkward Silence - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Just The Tip - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 The Team - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Man-No-Show -  Chicago Sketchfest 2011

Above: Pictures of some of this year’s 129 sketch comedy groups.


Q: How did Sketchfest start?

Posen: It was in 2001. Sketch comedy had begun to flourish. A bunch of sketch groups started to emerge. I had been in this musical comedy group called The Cupid Players and had just finished directing [sketch group] Stir Friday Night. At the same time, I was given this theater space [the Theatre Building], and I wanted to do something with it. So I asked some sketch groups if they wanted to do a small run. We ended up having a little over 30 groups.

It went well, and I wanted to do it again. So I sent the Cupid Players around the country to other festivals, and we learned how to run our festival. So it was this fluke of an idea that I started to nurture. And by the third year, we had taken over the entire Theatre Building.

Q: How does managing the old Theatre Building, now Stage 773, affect the production of Sketchfest?

Posen: The Theatre Building was really good to us. They bent over backward for us. But now we have the freedom to do certain things that we couldn’t before. We can decorate the space anyway we want it. Before we would have to ask for permission to hang posters in parts of the lobby or had limitations on where we could post signage. Now we don’t have to worry about that. We also don’t have to use Ticketmaster, which means our audience doesn’t have to pay those surcharges. Also, the beer’s cheaper now.

Q: This year’s festival claims 129 sketch groups. How many did you have to turn away?

Posen: About 100 groups. I hate doing that. One thing I’m protective of is that all groups are treated equally. We don’t give awards; we don’t say someone is better than another. Our whole vibe is about building a community.

Q: How do you select what groups get into the festival?

Posen: I have an eight-person committee of performers, directors, producers, a tech designer and someone who is not in the profession. It’s really important to have that outsider. They all watch all the submission videos and rate them from 1 to 100. We have a spreadsheet and input all the numbers. But it’s not just based on that. We also look at the uniqueness of the groups. A couple years ago, there was a group we accepted that didn’t quite have the numbers, but they were all over 50. We rarely get a group that is in that age range. It was an awesome point of view to have here. So if there is something that can help the festival get even more diverse, we will consider that, too.

Q: You mention "points of view." How does that factor into sketch comedy?

Posen: With sketch, the artist who is performing the material is also the writer, so it’s all extremely personal to the artist. There are 129 groups this year, and each is coming from a very specific point of view. We have all Asian groups, all black groups, all lesbian groups. We also have kids groups, some with 11, 12 and 13 year olds. When I watch them, I think, "My God! What an awesome point of view. We as adults have to learn from this because they are blowing us out of the water."

Q: How would you describe the difference between a sketch and a one-act play?

Posen: To me, sketch is a mini one-act that is usually focused on satire. So we are making fun of something. There’s something we need to say to the world, and satire is how we do it.

Q: Since you’re so tuned into the comedy scene, have you noticed any emerging comedy trends?

Posen: The big thing that has changed is how easy it is to make video. People that make comedy have become a lot more technically savvy. As for the content of the comedy, there’s always these phases based on what’s going on in the world. And I think one of the biggest things I see right now is commentaries on just how dumbed down our society has become in the last 10 years.

Q: You’re planning on renovating the Stage 773 space this summer. What’s the impetus for doing this?

Posen: Smaller spaces are a big trend. We want to renovate one of the theaters to create a black box stage and a 70-plus-seat cabaret. These two spaces will be conducive to turnover every two hours. This way the space itself becomes a draw for the audience. So instead of going to the space to see a specific show, they are going to the space to see what shows are playing. We also hope to cross-pollinate the audiences. So the guy leaving the big stage can exit the theater and see the stand-up show in the adjacent space. It’s not easy to get more people to see theater, but we can encourage the people that do see theater to see more things.

Sketchfest Links:

See more Sketchfest Youtube videos HERE

           
           

30-Hour Improv Marathon to benefit Child Literacy program

Playground Theater - 30-hour Improv marathon

The Playground Improv Marathon:

30 Hours of Comedy Benefiting Child Literacy

 

“9 Actors. 30 Hours. No Script. No Sleep. No Sanity.”

When: 6 p.m. Friday, September 10 – Midnight Saturday, September 11
Where: The Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted St.
Cost: $5-$10 per hour-long show, $25 for a full 30-hour pass
Contact: Dave Maher (daphima@gmail.com, 773-706-5890)

On September 10-11 at The Playground Theater, local improv troupe K.C. Redheart will perform 30 straight hours of comedy as part of the inaugural Playground Improv Marathon, a charity event benefiting the Illinois Coalition of Reach Out and Read and the Playground Theater.

The nine members of K.C. Redheart will test their wits, endurance, and sanity as the core group of “Marathoners,” going without sleep while performing for the Marathon’s entire 30 hours. Additionally, each hour will mark the start of a new show, as the Marathoners welcome guests from around the city to improvise with them, including performers from Second City, ComedySportz, the Annoyance Theatre, iO, and K.C. Redheart’s home, the Playground Theater.

With the help of so many different performers, the Playground Improv Marathon will showcase the diversity and vitality of Chicago’s improv scene. There will be short-form games a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” experimental and narrative long-form shows, family-friendly shows during the day, and anything-goes sets during the late-night hours. As an added bonus, the audience will witness the Marathoners’ transformation from well-adjusted adults to sleep-deprived comedy nutjobs by the end of it all. And most importantly, all of the proceeds go to a great cause.

The Playground Improv Marathon begins Friday evening, September 10, at 6 p.m. and ends Saturday night, September 11, at midnight. Tickets are available at the door, and prices are as follows: $5 for matinee shows, $10 for prime-time shows, and $25 for passes to the entire Marathon. Tickets to the Marathon include entry in a raffle to win prizes donated by local businesses, with drawings held every hour. Extra raffle tickets will be available for purchase.

kcredheart1 - marathon

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About Face announces 2010-2011 Season, future plans

Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar Announces 15th Season

 

about face logo

Including Three World Premieres, New Artistic Associates, and XYZ Festival

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of About Face Theatre, it looks like Artistic Director Bonnie Metzgar and new Executive Director Jason Held have upped the ante for the start of their next 15 years.  Included in the upcoming season is Float by Patricia Kane, Pony by Sally Oswald and The Homosexuals by Phillip Dawkins, are their second annual XYZ Festival of New Works

 

 

 

 

About Face is excited to roll out our 15th anniversary with a season that examines individuals at the precipice of change,” says Bonnie Metzgar. “As our organization and society at large both make pivotal choices, this season looks at the risks and exhilarating possibilities available to us in periods of transformation.

 

October 2010

XYZ Festival

The XYZ Festival will introduce Chicago audiences to the most innovative LGBTQA artists and artworks at all stages of development. Presented over the month of October, projects will include a workshop production of TINY ROOMS by Carson Kreitzer, and new works from AFT About Face Artistic Associates Tanya Saracho and Patrick Andrews, as well as a performance lounge series featuring AFT Artistic Associate Dan Stermer’s performance art/dance trio Double DJ, curated by AFT Marketing Director Jane Beachy. From the hundreds of scripts received for the XYZ Readings Series, four new plays by acclaimed emerging playwrights round out the festival.

XYZ Logo

November 11 – December 12

Float

FLOAT, a new play written by About Face Theatre (AFT) Artistic Associate Patricia Kane and directed by 500 Clown founder Leslie Danzig with dramaturgy by Jessica Thebus. The all-female cast includes Wendy Robie, Adrianne Cury, Peggy Roeder, Rengin Altay and AFT Artistic Associate Amy Matheny. FLOAT will run from November 11 – December 12 at Theater Wit (1229 West Belmont).

 

April-May 2011 

Pony

 

In April/May, About Face Theatre will present the world premiere of PONY by Sally Oswald, a play inspired by Georg Büchner, at the Chopin Theatre. Directed by Bonnie Metzgar, PONY will be featured as part of The Woyzeck Project, a city-wide festival hosted by About Face Theatre, The Hypocrites, and Collaboraction in which artists around the city will produce hybrid works inspired by the classic anti-war play. Set near the location of the famous murder scene in Woyzeck, PONY is a tale of shifting gender roles and the dangers of obsessive love.

 

June/July 2011

The Homosexuals

About Face Theatre will conclude its season in June/July with The Homosexuals by Chicago playwright Phillip Dawkins, starring Patrick Andrews at Victory Gardens Studio. The Homosexuals presents the interwoven lives, friendships, and relationships among six homosexual men over six years. Set at present time in a Midwestern city, Dawkins’ comedic and heartbreaking work examines the fears, doubts, and hope among the gay community in a 21st century perspective on the queer classic, The Boys in the Band.

About Face Theatre’s 15th Anniversary Season exemplifies how far the LGBTQ community has come from being defined by one issue to being seen as complex. In our 15 years, AFT has given voice to that changing dialogue around issues facing the queer community. As we move forward, we understand the need to bring the conversation around sexuality and gender to all people,” says Executive Director Jason Held.

 

 

 

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Lebron James in Chicago? Chicago theater stars fight for him

The Stars of Chicago’s Theater District

Fight for Lebron!!

 

Cesar Corrales from Billy Elliot the Musical

Eric Petersen as Shrek from Shrek the Musical

Broadway-in-Chicago free concert in Grant Park – June 28

shrek-the-musical Billy Elliot - Mily Skinner, Cesar Corrales and Cast

Free Broadway in Chicago concert at

Taste of Chicago

 

Monday, June 28th, at 6pm

Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park (235 S. Columbus)

 

Come enjoy the best of Broadway FREE on Monday, June 28th, including performances from Billy Elliot the Musical, Shrek the Musical, Rock of Ages, Disney’s Lion King, Traces, Wicked, working, Hair, and Million Dollar Quartet.

Plus, a special onstage appearance of the Stanley Cup!

petrillo-band-shell-at-night-in-chicago

Broadway In Chicago , in partnership with the City of Chicago and hosted by ABC7’s Janet Davies, is pleased to present the annual BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE OF CHICAGO, a fantastic, FREE event, featuring some of Broadway’s hottest shows during the city’s legendary Taste of Chicago festival and continues the celebration of Broadway In Chicago ’s 10 Year Anniversary.

For more information about the BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

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Kids storytelling workshop to be offered by Adventure Stage and Victory Gardens

storytelling4kids

Workshop Dates: March 30-31, April 1

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) and Victory Gardens Theater (VG) are partnering for a three-day storytelling workshop designed to keep kids engaged during the Chicago Public Schools’ spring break.

HOLIDAY DRAMA KIDS STORYTELLING WORKSHOP
Tue.-Wed., March 30-31, 9am-1pm (snacks provided)
Thur., April 1, 9am-4pm (lunch provided)

VG’s Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago

MORE INFO: In the workshop, kids will learn about various story genres, witness professional storytelling, write their own stories, practice storytelling in front of their peers, and ultimately perform their original stories on Victory Gardens’ stage for friends and family. Each workshop is $20 per day, per child. ASC Passport to Adventure holders save 25%. (For more information on ASC’s Passport to Adventure, visit www.adventurestage.org.) Workshop is recommended for children ages 8 and older.

Registration is required and early registration is strongly encouraged. Please contact Adventure Stage Chicago’s Merissa Shunk at 773-278-7471 x173 or merissa@adventurestage.org to register today!

Steppenwolf taps Rebecca Rugg for new Associate Producer post

Yale School of Drama  instructor Rebecca Rugg will join the Steppenwolf  Theatre  Company  in the newly-created position of Associate Producer. The post involves  “work(ing)”  closely with the Director of Artistic Development to implement new initiatives, provide dramaturgical expertise and continue to deepen Steppenwolf’s commitment to the development of new plays,” according to a written statement from the theater.

 Rugg has strong local ties in addition to a background that spans continents.  This season in Chicago, in addition to being an Artistic Associate at About Face Theatre  Company, she was the dramaturg on 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal with the 500 Clown ensemble and for the world premiere of  Fake written and directed by Eric Simonson for the Steppenwolf Downstairs theater. 

Rugg comes to the position with  a strong background in dramturgy, most recently working as in instructor in the Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama. She also served as dramaturg and director of new projects at the Joseph Papp Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival under George C. Wolfe.  She was dramaturg on the original productions of Caroline, or Change, Harlem Song, Radiant BabyElaine Stritch at Liberty and together with Joe’s Pub Director Bill Bragin, commissioned Passing Strange

 In addition to her dramaturgy skills, Rugg has substantial producing credits, having produced  the  University network of the 365 Festival – a festival based on 365 Days/365 Plays, a year-long play cycle written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.  Working  with Parks and Bonnie Metzgar (now the Artistic Director of About Face Theatre) , Rugg helped bring the 365 Days/365 Plays cycle to hundreds of theaters, universities and art spaces throughout the U.S. and abroad. The labor-intensive project drew kudos from Time Magazine, which named the 365 Festival one of its top ten theater events in 2006. 

Rugg’s criticism and translations have been published in American Theater, Theater Magazine and Performing Arts Journal. She holds a BFA and an MFA from Yale School of Drama, an MA from University of California, Riverside and a BA from Cornell University.  She has been a Jacob Javits Fellow, Djerassi Resident Artist, Fellow at U.C. Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society and a member of the Foundry, Ma-Yi and Hip Hop Theater Festival’s delegation to the 2007 World Social Forum.