Chicago — Every Friday night for the past decade, a group of improv actors from Second City, IO, ComedySportz and other smaller troupes have gathered at Chicago’s Annoyance Theater to perform a one-of-a-kind, two-act, all-improv comedy thriller inspired by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
Their show is called “Hitch*Cocktails”, and what makes it unique is actually in the title of the show. Because, yes, there are cocktails and other alcoholic beverages served during the show. But in addition to drinks being served to the audience, the actors also drink on stage, drinking alcohol from a fully stocked bar that is stage proper.
In fact, drinking is part of the overall structure of the show. It is a rule that any character offered a drink during the hour and a half show must finish their cocktail before the scene ends.
“As you remember, this is a two-act show,” said “Hitch*Cocktails” artistic director and showrunner Cynthia Bangert. “So by the end of the show, it can get pretty wild on stage.”
This May, the good folks at “Hitch*Cocktails” are celebrating a milestone. It is the 10th anniversary of the show, which began at Chicago’s Annoyance Theater in May 2012.
The troupe staged special shows at the Nuisance to celebrate the anniversary on May 19 and 20.
“It’s the most unique show I’ve ever been a part of, it’s the longest show I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s my favorite show I’ve ever been a part of,” Bangert said. “Sometimes you come out and put on the show and you can tell right away it’s going to be a party from start to finish.”
But this party has become an institution in Chicago, a staple for Friday night audiences looking for a different style of improv. The troupe also performed and taught at workshops throughout the country. And they were named the “Best Improv/Sketch Group in Chicago” by the Chicago Reader in 2016.
Members of the show say that its combination of improvised storytelling theater with alcohol creates an element of surprise that is different from most other shows.
“There’s a real sense of spontaneity,” said CJ Tuor, presenter and co-founder of the long-running show. “It’s one reason why theater is different than television or movies, anything that happens, because it’s live.”
One thing remains the same: at the beginning of each show, the performers ask for audience suggestions on a possible theme for the show.
RELATED: Child actor on Hulu series ‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ started in stand-up act with mom
“The feedback we’re looking for is fear,” Tuor said. “We want unique scares. We had suggestions like mustard, escalators, jamming your fingernails so hard it falls off. And from those scares, we make a complete 1940s-, 50s-, 60s-style genre thriller. ”
After receiving their audience feedback, the actors begin the show, aided by pitchers of mixed drinks, vaguely identified as “brown” or “less brown” by the cast.
That cast has a variety of other alcohol options behind the bar, from charcoal-filtered vodka to Malort. To prove that the drinks from the bar on stage are really alcoholic, some audience members are asked to do a taste test before the show starts.
“If you come to our show, you might be lucky enough to be chosen to drink the awesome concoctions we drink on stage,” Tour said.
Although the veteran actors are careful to maintain control during scenes, working while drinking has its obvious challenges.
“Hitch*Cocktails” presenter Bri Fitzpatrick, who is also the show’s cultural coordinator, said the group is always aware of how to deal with those challenges.
“We do some really risky things on stage,” Fitzpatrick said. “We drink and then we have love scenes and death scenes, and we do sometimes ill-advised stunts, but we always check before every show we tackle and do what’s called a consent check. And everyone is always safe.”
Fitzpatrick said that audiences who do go to see “Hitch*Cocktails” will experience something that is unlike the usual show at Second City or IO.
“It’s definitely different than something like some of the short improvised games that some people might be used to,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a long narrative theater with a complicated plot. And, as we like to say, the plot gets more complicated one way or another, because there was also drinking.”
“Hitch*Cocktails” is staged every Friday night at 10 pm at the Frustration Theatre, 851 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago.