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Gold Coast, Loop Residents Prep for Sketchfest, Hoping to Launch Careers

 Loop and Gold Coast residents prepare for the 13th annual Chicago Sketch Festival.
Gold Coast Sketch Fest Stars
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GOLD COAST — Every year, Stage 773's annual Sketch Comedy Festival brings more than a hundred comedy troupes from around the world to Lakeview.

Their main goals are to entertain locals, mingle with other industry types and sit in on talks by Second City alums and "Conan" writers, said Cristy von Rautenkranz, a Lakeshore East resident who's performing in the eight-day festival for the fourth time.

But for performers hoping to make it in the business — at least, enough to quit the "day job that pays for my acting career" — there's also the hope that someone in the audience with influence in the industry will like your stuff and want to feature it at bigger or out-of-town venues, said von Rautenkranz.

After spending a summer at Second City during college, von Rautenkranz fell in love with Chicago and promptly moved back. During the day she works as the office manager at Zagone Studios, a mask-making factory, and at night she chases her dream of doing sketch comedy full-time. This year she will perform in a two-person show, "Life's Misdirections."

She hopes Sketchfest will get her there.

"For us, our hope is just to get people who weren't able to attend our [debut] performance back in March to see the show," von Rautenkranz said. "The other hope would be, if people really liked it, to take it on the road or to do it somewhere else. It definitely could get more viewing [at Sketchfest] than it did the first time around."

The veteran Sketchfest performer will be joined by some neighbors at this year's event, which runs from Thursday to Sunday and from Jan. 16-19 at the theater at 1225 W. Belmont Ave.

Josh Lanzet, who's been with the Cupid Players for a year and a half, also moved to the Gold Coast recently to chase his dream of doing comedy in Chicago.

The New York native and Google staffer says he "came out here to study with all the people that I read about and to learn the craft from the people who developed it."

Sketchfest provides "the best possible opportunity to do that," Lanzet said, referring to the nearly 150 international touring groups performing in the 170 shows booked for the event.

Mollie Rehner, Lanzet's neighbor by a few blocks, has been rehearsing for weeks with her group "Prostitute Tears" in preparation for the festival when she's not at her day job teaching pre-school in the Loop.

Rehner moved to the Gold Coast just over a year ago to pursue her dreams of comedy writing and performing "the right way."

She hopes "Prostitute Tears" and the all-new show they're debuting Sketchfest will set her on that path.

"We're a very new group, and we're hoping that we get some recognition for this show, and people talk about us — we're hoping to bring this show to other places around Chicago," she said. "It's too good to only do it one night. ... We're hoping to get a chance to take this somewhere else in Chicago, maybe another theater."

The actors agree that as much as they'd like to see their shows gain traction and launch them to stardom at the two-week festival, they'll be satisfied onstage just to see some friendly faces in the audience.

Rehner said she'll be in the audience rooting for her fellow comedians, since her local peers "all have a tremendous amount of support for each other."

Lanzet said he's already "sent a note to a few of my friends, and let my parents know that for those two weekends, I will be pretty inaccessible," he said "I will be spending the majority of my time filling as many seats as I can" at the fest.

Chicago community members who aren't plugged into the comedy scene are encouraged to come out as well, the actors said.

"We know our neighbors, and a lot of people in our building know that I'm a comedian, so I'll tell them when I'm in a show," von Rautenkranz said, who plans to pass out postcards in the common rooms at her Lakeshore East building as the festival date nears.

"Our main goal would be to see people really enjoy it," she said. "If they do, we'll do [the show] again wherever we can."

The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival runs Thursday to Jan. 19 Tickets are $14 on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and $15 on Saturdays and can be bought at www.Stage773.com, by phone at 773-327-5252, and in person at the Stage 773 box office.