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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – Our city is famous for improvisational comedy. Instead of being known for New York’s Broadway shows, or Los Angeles’ Hollywood movies, Chicago is known for being able to tell a good joke.

The Lakeview neighborhood is home to a congregation of alternative and fringe theaters. The iO Theater, The Playground Theater, Comedysportz Theater and Lakeshore Theater produce a wide variety of contemporary comedy shows.

The third season of Blewt Productions’ Impress These Apes will wrap up November 10 at Lakeshore Theater.

According to the show’s storyline, the contestants are charged with producing enough talent power to right earth’s future, which was disrupted in the previous seasons of Impress These Apes performed at The Playground Theater and the iO Theater.

Eight contestants compete for eight weeks in weekly talent challenges to see who can score the most points from three futuristic ape judges. Blewt founder Steve Gadlin said Impress These Apes fits in the Lakeview theater scene because it’s a wacky variety show.

“That’s actually a pretty popular genre right now in Lakeview,” Gadlin said. “There are especially a lot of burlesque shows going on now and other types of variety shows. It fits in, in that it’s irreverent in that area.”

blewt members rehearse impress these apes at the lakeshore theater the day before its opening. photo by antonette brotman and christopher brinckerhoff.

blewt members rehearse impress these apes at the lakeshore theater the day before its opening. photo by antonette brotman.

Impress These Apes was an open audition, and some of the contestants live in or near Lakeview. Contestant Becky Eldridge has lived on the north side for 14 years. She works in advertising, and co-wrote two musicals. Eldridge said Impress These Apes was an inherently perfect fit for Lakeview because of the diversity within the community and show.

“The neighborhood is a convergence of all the gays up in Boys Town, and those Lincoln Parkers who are just looking for some chuckles and some good times,” Eldridge said.

“You’ve got your suburban Belmont Goth kids down the street, the jocks from the lake who come there to play softball, and you’ve got your crazy homeless men,” Eldridge said. “Impress These Apes connects with the neighborhood because the show itself represents every one of those points of view.”

“In a broader, global perspective the contestants in the show range from your average Joe off the street to the goofy party animal who might wear a lampshade on his head, to your crazy Aunt Rose who always has on crazy hats,” Eldridge said.

Impress These Apes stands out among other Lakeview shows because of Blewt’s roots in the area and their attention to detail, according to Gadlin.

“I think our sense of humor, our general aesthetic will set us apart from other shows,” Gadlin said. “We’re kind of unafraid to be incredibly corny and cheesy. So we keep it intelligent by kind of underpinning it with this theme of despair and hopelessness. You know, for the kids.”

watch out for these three guys on the street. they are dangerous. photo by antonette brotman and christopher brinckerhoff

watch out for these three guys on the street. photo by antonette brotman.

The apes’ current home, Lakeshore Theater, was converted from a movie theater into a live performance theater in 2002. Lakeshore Theater’s technical director William Hasty said compared to other Lakeview theaters they frequently host standup comedy acts.

The Lakeshore Theater also hosts “acts that might have a little trouble finding a home in another theater,” Hasty said. “They might be a little controversial. They might rub people the wrong way a little bit. And we welcome them with open arms.”

When asked if Impress These Apes has been a little too cutting edge for some people, Hasty said no one has left the show, but some of the contestants’ performances of the historical reenactment challenge tested some people’s comfort zones.

“Last week they really pushed the envelope with some of the acts,” Hasty said. “It was some of the oddest things I’ve seen on stage as long as I’ve been here.”

The contestants were asked to perform a turning point in history.

“One of the contestants recreated his birth by crawling into a garbage bag, removing all of his clothes, and covering himself in grape jelly,” Hasty said. “Then he stood up on stage completely nude, covered in jelly, reenacting his birth for five minutes.”

The act that followed him came out in a tutu and airplane costume, and set up two World Trade Center towers, according to Hasty. One tower was a cardboard model, and the other was a dancer dressed as the tower.

“He did a ballet piece to Flight of the Valkyries, a dramatic reinterpretation of September 11th right after we had the live birth on stage,” Hasty said. “A couple people were shifting around in their seats.”

A behind the scenes glance at Chicago’s cutting edge sense of humor. You can go to Blewt Productions website to laugh more. Video by Antonette Brotman and Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Gadlin said Impress These Apes could be seen as a comment on reality television shows.

“As snarky as the ape judges get overall it’s a very positive show,” Gadlin said. “It’s more about celebrating the talent of these eight unique performers.”

The show is not about the insults and voting off present in some reality shows, according to Gadlin. In addition to their silly sense of humor and sparkly curtains, other elements that characterize Blewt’s aesthetic appear in recurring themes.

“We like fart jokes,” Gadlin said. “Pickles show up in a lot of things. As do apes and monkeys. That kind of stuff.”

“In a sense, we kind of slap reality television and give it a positive spin, and really get a live audience behind the contestants,” Gadlin said. “We’re commenting on reality TV as well as kind of embracing the format of it for our own crazy purposes.”

“Positivity is cool,” Gadlin said.

Copyright 2008

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