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46 Great Things to Do This Winter: How To’s

For the aspiring comedians, storytellers, and puppeteers

Illustration: Jing Wei

How to Write a Comedy Sketch

From January 8 to 18, more than a thousand aspiring and veteran performers will storm the four theaters at Stage 773 in Lake View for the 14th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival. Brian Posen, the event’s founder, gives his take on how to write a comedic slam dunk.

Think outside the box. “Everything has been done,” says Posen. So choose a unique scenario to explore. For example: I’m asking my iPhone out on a date.

Create characters. Develop rich, fully dimensional characters rather than overused stock ones. Embody the character of Siri.

Simplify. Ground the scene in a single idea. “You should be able to say in one sentence what the scene is about.” Siri treats me better than my girlfriend does.

Be specific. Every sketch is an entire play within itself, so “every word should have purpose.” Siri and I have a torrid affair in Torcello, Italy.

Evoke emotion. Go for shock, or surprise, not just laughter. “Make us feel something—anything.” Siri wants to start dating an Android instead of me.


How to Tell a Great Story

Sure, you can listen at a storytelling fest, such as Fillet of Solo, running January 9 to 25, but why not grab the mike yourself? Dana Norris, founder of the live lit series Story Club, shares four of her tips.

Find a conflict. Go for something that bothers you, a topic with built-in tension. “It doesn’t have to be a sob story,” says Norris. “I tell one about how my grandmother never used to buy ice cream because she thought it was too luxurious. She would buy ice milk instead.”

Ditch the paper. Make eye contact with the audience, and try to adopt the voice of the narrator. “Telling a story without notes removes a barrier between the audience and makes the experience more intimate.”

Keep your focus. The narrower your tale, the easier it will be for the audience to follow. “Try to edit, answering the question, Why should they keep listening?”

Nail the finish. That doesn’t mean you need a happy ending. “If it’s sad, you can keep it sad. If it’s happy, you don’t have to make it deeper. End it bearing in mind the feeling you want the audience to walk away with.”


How to Make a Shadow Puppet

Blair Thomas, artistic director of the inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival (January 14 to 25) and cofounder of Redmoon, shares three easy steps for silhouette fun.

Shadow puppet illustration 1
1. Trace a photo of someone onto a thin piece of cardboard and cut out the shape.
Illustrations: David Preiss


Shadow puppet illustration 2
2. Detach one of the arms at the shoulder and reattach with a string.


Shadow puppet illustration 3
3. Glue a Popsicle stick onto the back, attach another with a string to the end of the arm, and—presto!—you’ve got a shadow puppet. Make a few more, hang a bed sheet in a doorway, and use a flashlight or bare light bulb to stage a show.



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