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Hold the Line 

JaCKPie educates Atlanta on long-form improv

When Atlanta actor Jim Karwisch lived in the Windy City, he rode the Chicago Red Line to work each day. On days when he felt homesick for Georgia, he daydreamed that the elevated train could keep going and deliver him back to the South.

Now, Karwisch's fantasy has become a reality of sorts as he and his JaCKPie performance group bring Chicago Red Line, an evening of long-form improvisation, to PushPush Theater.

Though the term "improv" typically conjures images of short, unscripted comedy skits, the variety mastered by JaCKPie isn't so easily pigeonholed.

"It's spontaneous theater, as we like to call it," says Karwisch.

JaCKPie debuted the first Chicago Red Line at PushPush in July and brought the show back in August. Unlike in traditional comedy improv, long-form doesn't employ games or "gimmicks" to engage the audience. Instead, each show segment begins with the players asking for suggestions from the audience, then creating scenes and characters that can last for a half-hour or longer.

At the last outing, one such suggestion was, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," leading to a scenario involving a showbiz mom, her homicidal daughter and a deadly Pepsi commercial. But not all "spontaneous theater" tends toward the slapstick; another scene saw a boy dealing with the death of his grandfather.

"In game-style improv, there's no room for a serious scene," says JaCKPie co-founder Chris Pierce. "Improv is generally funny, because things come off of the top of people's heads. But we can be funny without trying to be funny."

Also performing in Chicago Red Line are two other long-form teams, The Position, consisting of Comedy Response Unit alumni, and Zero Suppression.

Karwisch says long-form improv may ask more of the audience, but the pay-off is worth it.

"We have to put a lot of ourselves on the line by saying, 'This is going to last for 30 minutes and we're going to play at a reasonable rate. We're not going to run around tearing each other's heads off or shooting guns.' But I'd say 90 percent of the time audiences fall into that groove with us."

JaCKPie presents Chicago Red Line, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m., and Six 10 Spare, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road. $10 per show, $15 for both. 404-307-9862.

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