Although improvisational comedy, one of Chicago’s most formidable gifts to the entertainment world, had its genesis in the Hyde Park neighborhood, it is now rooted almost entirely on the city’s north side. Producer John Stoops wants to change all that.
Stoops, who is determined to take the art form “back home,” has announced the establishment of The Revival, a comedy club that will be located almost exactly on the original footprint of the improv movement at 1160 E. 55th St. Set for a “soft opening” in late October, and an official opening in late January, the 2700-square-foot space (on the northeast corner of 55th Street and University Place, next to the current site of the Engine 60 fire station, and in the same complex as the Woodlawn Tap), will house a 150-seat cabaret-style space, with a back patio space, too. And it will present a wide range of original programming “spanning all variations that fall under the umbrella of comedy,” and even some blues and jazz.
It was back in the mid-1950s that a collection of theatrical brainiacs circling around the University of Chicago gathered in a space in the back room of The Compass, a bar at 55th and University, where they wrote the outlines for their earliest sketches. Those sessions led to the establishment of The Compass Players in 1955, and the emergence of such renowned “players” as Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris, Del Close and countless others.
Stoops, who spent 17 years in the advertising business (he worked for Leo Burnett) began pursuing his dream “to be a producer” in 2013 by co-founding the summertime Three Oaks Theater Festival in the town of Three Oaks, Michigan, and learning the ropes by working with co-producers Tim Evans (of Northlight Theatre) and actor Marc Grapey.
That project has been an enormous success, with remounts of such recent major Chicago hits as director Hans Fleischmann’s take on “The Glass Menagerie,” David Cromer’s revival of “The Normal Heart,” Blair Thomas’ puppet theater, Northlight’s “Chapatti” (with John Mahoney reprising his starring role), and, for some levity, The Hypocrites’ take on “H.M.S. Pinafore” and a world premiere by the Q Brothers.
But Stoops, who moved to Chicago in 1995, and now lives in Hyde Park, wanted more. As he explained his evolution: “I wasn’t a drama club guy, but when I first got to the city my company offered free classes at The Second City and I took them. Then, about two years ago I left my job and, after getting my feet wet at Three Oaks, I decided to jump in with both feet and start this club. It coincides with some interesting arts and entertainment activities that have been developing in Hyde Park during the past few years – everything from the University of Chicago’s Logan Center, to The Promontory [a restaurant and music venue], and, soon, the Obama Library.”
Serving as artistic director will be Billy Bungeroth, a Second City mainstay who directed “The Art of Falling,” The Second City’s acclaimed collaboration with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago last year. Helping with the design is master theater architect John Morris (Lookingglass, The Black Ensemble, Steppenwolf), with interior design by twofold studio (SoHou House).
“Of course we’re hoping for an audience of students, staff and faculty from the University of Chicago, and testing the waters in October will be Off-Off Campus, the well-established improvisational and sketch comedy group at the University of Chicago,” said Stoops. “But we want The Revival to be a source of talent and a destination for the whole South Side, with all its diversity.”