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Comedy theater hopes to spread laughter

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09


photo by Olivia DiYanni

Arcade Comedy Theater on Liberty Ave. is set to open its doors on Feb. 15 and hopes to add to downtown’s comedy scene.

Point Park students and Downtown visitors will soon have a place to escape from the stresses of school and work to have a laugh.

Arcade Comedy Theater is Pittsburgh's newest improvisational comedy theater, and it will celebrate its opening weekend beginning Feb. 15 at its 811 Liberty Ave. The theater will present weekend comedy shows featuring its five co-founders and special guests, plus offer comedy classes and workshops in the coming months.

"[Arcade Comedy Theater is] going to have a real sampler platter for people, and they can get a taste of all the different things that may be popping up that you could see once we're in full swing," said Arcade Comedy Theater co-founder and Pittsburgh-native Kristy Nolen in a phone interview on Thursday.

Opening weekend will consist of shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb. 16, with the possibility of additional midnight shows. Co-founders Kristy and Jethro Nolen, Abby Fudor, Mike Rubino, and Randy Kirk will perform some improvised comedy scenes, and special guests including Pittsburgh Dad are scheduled to perform opening weekend. Advance tickets are available for $20 through or $25 at the door. Tickets for future shows will cost between $5 to $10 dollars.

The five founders met through the Pittsburgh Improv Jam at the Cabaret at Theater Square in Downtown a year ago. They quickly connected through their mutual passion for comedy and wanted to turn Pittsburgh into a comedy hub.

 "We sort of all had a common desire to create a space dedicated to all things comedy," said co-founder Fudor, also from Pittsburgh, in a Jan. 18 phone interview.

They noticed a need for a weekend comedy spot Downtown and began searching for a venue. The former La Prima Espresso building was the perfect fit, with its large bay windows overlooking Liberty Avenue and the heart of Pittsburgh's Cultural District.

 The founders agreed on the name Arcade Comedy Theater because an arcade is somewhere people know they can go to have fun, Kristy Nolen said.

They have spent the last six months transforming the building's interior into a theater, complete with a stage, a ticket booth and room to seat an audience of about 60 people.

"I love what we've done in the space. It's really colorful, and we're working really hard to have an inviting, fun vibe," Kristy Nolen said.

 Arcade Comedy Theater's goal is to provide a variety of comedic entertainment, with acts including improvisational, sketch and stand-up comedy, plus comedy in other forms like music and magic performances.

 Audiences can expect plenty of improvisational comedy from the founders, who specialize in long-form comedy. They create entire characters and plotlines off the tops of their heads based on a single suggestion from the audience. Some short-form comedy — quick, joke-filled games reminiscent of the old television show "Whose Line Is It Anyway? " — will be mixed in as well.

"That's one of the challenges, but also one of the things we're most excited about. By opening a variety-style comedy theater, we can showcase so many different forms [of comedy]," Fudor said. "I would love if Pittsburgh can see that there are so many ways that people onstage can make you laugh."

Arcade Comedy Theater also plans to offer classes in improvisation, sketch writing, standup comedy and workshops for budding comedians and seasoned professionals alike, ideally beginning in March. Husband and wife Jethro and Kristy Nolen hope to bring their 20 years of experience teaching comedy classes in Chicago and Los Angeles to Pittsburgh's comedy scene.

"We're opening this up to the public. Whether it's the businesswoman who would like to take an improv class to feel more confident with public speaking or thinking on her feet, or whether it's one of the really talented improvisers in town," Fudor said.

More than 400 people braved the snowy weather on the night of the Jan. 25 Gallery Crawl to visit Arcade Comedy Theater during its open house event.

The founders and volunteers spent the evening giving impromptu performances and spreading the word about the theater.

"We were performing pretty much constantly the whole night because we just kept having full houses, and people were interested and excited about it," Kristy Nolen said. "We were thrilled."

As opening weekend approaches, the founders are hoping to attract Downtown residents and visitors, as well as Pittsburgh's college students.

Lara McCann-Moran, a junior in the acting program at Point Park, is the founder and president of Point Park's improvisational comedy club called Slow Clap Improv Club. The addition of a new comedy theater within walking distance of campus is an opportunity that she thinks students should embrace.

"I think [Arcade Comedy Theater] will be so central to this college," said McCann-Moran in Lawrence Hall on Wednesday. "I know so many kids here who were into improv in high school who are acting majors and want to get that experience. I would hope that there would be a huge turnout there."

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