This is an archive of our old website. Please go to our new website at:


Chicago Improv Festival History: 1998-2011

(Opening video from CIF 2009)

CIF 1: March 31-April 6, 1998

CIF 2: April 6-11, 1999

CIF 3: April 25-30, 2000

CIF 4: May 1-6, 2001

CIF 5: April 1-7, 2002

CIF 6: May 11-18, 2003

CIF 7: April 30-May 9, 2004

CIF 8: April 22-May 1, 2005 (Under Construction)

CIF 9: April 24-30, 2006

CIF 10: April 23-29, 2007

(Opening Video from CIF 2007)

CIF 11: June 2-8, 2008

CIF 12: April 13-19, 2009

(The Doubtful Guests' promo video for CIF 2009)

CIF 13: April 19-25, 2010

(Opening Video from CIF 2010)

CIF 14: April 25-May 1, 2011

(The Stuntmen's promo video for CIF 2011)

CIF's Narrative and Origins

The Chicago Improv Festival was co-founded by Jonathan Pitts and Frances Callier in 1998 as an educational forum. The festival teaches the art of improv, the history of and the potential for innovation within the art form to students of the craft, professional improv artists and the public. While other improv festivals exist around the world, several in the United States, the Chicago Improv Festival is the only festival that has been created solely for the purposes of documenting, promoting and teaching improv as an art form. The founding of the organization in Chicago, Illinois itself speaks to the organization's commitment to the legacy of improv and promoting that legacy to others.

Modern improvisational theatre began in Chicago. Its history can be traced back to 1945 when it was taught by Viola Spolin to schoolchildren at Chicago's Hull House. Improv was introduced as a way to teach the valuable skills of theater while being freed of the strictures of stage production that were often too costly to be accessible to the poor. Public performances began in July of 1955 at the University of Chicago by the first improv ensemble, The Compass. Though short lived (1955-59), The Compass set the stage for the future of modern improv. This included the founding of The Second City by former Compass founder-director Paul Sills.

With The Second City improv began to expand beyond Chicago becoming a viable art form practiced throughout the world. While enabling this growth The Second City has also allowed improv to remain a present and integral part of the Chicago performance community. As improv grew with the influence of Chicago improv theaters such as Annoyance Theater, ComedySportz Chicago, iO Comedy Theatre, and The Playground, as well as teachers like Del Close, Martin deMaat, and Mick Napier, improv festivals originated as a way to gather talent, provide performance opportunities, pass on techniques from improv masters and teach new skills. Over the years they've become an essential part of and stabilizing force for the improv community.

Despite the increasing importance of festivals to the improv world and the continuing influence and historical importance of its founding city to the art form, an improv festival had never been established in Chicago. Seeing the need to rectify this situation, the two well-established improv performers Pitts and Callier joined together to produce the first ever CIF, and it was held at the Annoyance Theater. CIF is now seen as the largest and most prestigious improv festival in the world, as well as a model for other improv fests. In 2012, CIF will be in it's 15th year, and has already presented more than 850 acts and ensembles by improv artists from 15 nations and 45 cities; had improv workshops taught by over 50 instructors; and given various awards to 45 improv artists.