By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Improvisational performer and software development executive Dan Friedrich recently purchased office space at East Park Tower. The space will serve as both a software company and an improv theater, said Friedrich.
The 4,000-square-foot space, which he has named the “Silicon Gargoyle,” is located on the ground floor of the building at 5240 S. Hyde Park Blvd. The space will serve as a software company and theater incubator, a space for seminars, workshops and improv shows, said Friedrich, who is the chief executive officer and chief technology officer at Friedrich Klatt and Associates, a company that builds project management software for large companies.
“Chicago is the best city in the world to study improv because of its long history,” Friedrich said. “It will be a theater incubator — the things we do there will be experimental, just as Hyde Park was an improv incubator in the ‘50s.”
The improv movement got its start at a tavern on 53rd Street and University Avenue where a fire station is currently located. The improv team, which was named “The Compass Players,” later moved to the North Side and became known as Second City. Second City is known for training many of the notable comedians who appear on Saturday Night Live and throughout the industry.
“The Compass Players were intelligent people who wanted to do relevant comedy,” Friederich said. “That was the origin of improv.”
Friedrich, who is a Second City-trained sketch and improv comedy director, writer and performer, said his interest in sketch comedy improvisation started when he was a kid. First he impersonated his dad and other people of authority. Then it grew to presidents and celebrities.
He moved to Chicago from his hometown in Nebraska to study political science at the University of Chicago, then started his software company. He also continued to pursue his passion for improv. He received formal training at Second City and was one of the first group of students to graduate from its writing program. For the past 10 years, he’s been a member of the Quadrangle Club Revels and is an actor and board member of the Hyde Park Community Players.
Friedrich said his theater group will experiment with what he calls “intentional improv,” which he describes as “using tools of improv and theater to do shows about something relevant.”
He is partnering with the Hyde Park Community Players to produce his first Intentional Improv Show, “Drones, Clones and Phones: I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
He said he chose these themes because they have a familiar mystery to them and the topic is important and becoming more important all the time, but people don’t know how to think about it yet.
“Computers are everywhere — flying, walking, swimming and collecting data,” Friedrich said. “When we ask an audience a question about their Internet privacy concerns, we hear crickets, but in a few clicks of a key pad I can pull up stuff about them that they would be appalled by.”
Friedrich said the show will be about what he calls “the second machine age.”
“The first machine age put the blue collar worker under assault,” Friedrich said. “The second machine age of automated intelligence is now putting intelligence under assault.”
The touring improv show, which currently has a cast of 10, will take place at 7 p.m. on May 30 at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St., with guest star detective fiction writer Sara Paretsky. It will also run on June 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., with guest star Pastor Stephanie Jaeger.
For the past several weeks, Friedrich has been giving free improv workshops throughout Hyde Park. He will host a fifth workshop from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on May 18 at Augustana Lutheran Church.