The Annoyance Theatre & Bar
It seems like there are as many takes on improv comedy as there are improv comedians. Maybe more. You can take classes with five different teachers and come away with six points of view. I “studied” improv in high school, studied improv in college, and continue my studies to this day. I have tried to absorb as vast a knowledge base as I can, but I have always come back to a book called Improvise! by Mick Napier. In college I read Improvise every semester, and although I have taken many classes and workshops with many teachers, I always come back to it to recenter myself. It may be the best book on improv comedy I have ever read. Napier has studied all over the city, directed David Sedaris’ Obie-winning one man show, and served as the artistic director for the Second City 50th anniversary show. But Napier is not some faceless entity, a celebrity chef who sets the cogs in place, gives them a spin, and then disappears. In fact, he has his very own theater right here in Chicago, and he’s still a teacher at the top level of study.
The Annoyance Theatre has been operating since 1987 (the year I was born, absolutely coincidental) and has moved around the northern neighborhoods several times before settling into its permanent home on Broadway, right off of the Lawrence Red Line. The current incarnation is home to a casual bar in the front and a cozy theater space in the back. Seven nights a week you can see some of the funniest Chicago artists in sketch, improv, and musical shows, all developed through the lens of his strong ideas about what makes a performance interesting to watch.
The Annoyance takes the stance that the best way to approach support is to create something for yourself first. The best support you can give to another actor is the gift of a strong choice for yourself. The Annoyance teaches about ensemble work, but stresses you must be in touch with what you are giving; without making any choices for yourself, how can you expect others to have anything to go off of? The training program is five levels, with intense character study and plenty of opportunity for individual feedback. This kind of training has led to the kinds of shows that make the theater, and those who come out of it, successful. The Annoyance has the honor of being the creator and host of the longest running musical in Chicago, “Co-Ed Prison Sluts,” (“Multi-gendered Incarceration Rakes,” for the easily offended) and has featured shows with casts of brilliant comedians. Performers such as Jon Favreau, Amy Sedaris, Jason Sudekis, and Andy Richter have been seen on the stage of The Annoyance, and current superstars of improv like Susan Messing, T.J. Jagadowski, and Noah Gregoropolous can be seen in shows every week.
Shows at The Annoyance, perhaps more than most improv theaters, are not for the faint of heart. Or stomach. They do not shy away from vulgarity, perversity, or gore. Their long-running musical is still playing, and they have a midnight show called Skinprov, for which you need to show I.D. to attend. For only seven dollars at midnight, every Saturday, you can check out grown men improvise with everything they’ve got. Additionally, at the time of this writing, The Annoyance is reviving the very first show it ever created. Back when they weren’t even a theater and called themselves Metraform, they did a Halloween show called “Splatter Theater.” The walls start out white each show, and every night they need to get repainted. Intrigued? Tickets for their shows are extremely reasonable for an evening of comedy. They can be obtained at the theater or can be bought ahead of time on their website. While there you can check out a more detailed history of the company and even print coupons for the bar.
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