“We had a staff meeting on March 13 and the consensus was that we were closing the theater,” says ColdTowne Theater’s artistic director Will Cleveland. “And without batting an eye, the owners of ColdTowne – Mike Jastroch, Dave Buckman, [and] Rachel Madorsky – told us their plan to pay us through this crisis.”
That was great news for the staff of the theater, but it also raised some questions about just what they could do during this time – how does a comedy theater continue to operate during a pandemic-inspired lockdown?
“We’re in the business of gatherings and having fun, so our business is pretty much decimated by this crisis,” Cleveland says. “So we as a staff, continuing to get paid, are still working. And we’re trying to figure out how to do what we do on this new platform. It’s more about having the community engaging with each other… than anything else.”
Their solution was to try and reimage ColdTowne as a sort of online TV station – they still offer comedy seven nights a week, but it’s streaming online instead of in a theater and the audiences and performers all stay in the safety of their respective homes.
To help create ColdTowne TV, Cleveland got in touch with performer Colt Joyce. “In my real life, I work as a video producer,” Joyce says. “So as soon as the whole crisis went down and every single job I had for the next three months cancelled on me, Will reached and said ‘Hey, we want to do this livestreaming thing.’”
Joyce says that within a week, the team had managed to put together a video channel that they’re all really proud of. Performing on separate video screens is very different from performing together on a stage, though, so ColdTowne TV had to become its own thing and not just a filmed version of ColdTowne’s stage offerings. “We’re experimenting with lots of things on this channel… that you wouldn’t normally see at the theater,” Cleveland says. “We’re just trying to find a rhythm of programming that translates well onto a streaming format. It’s stil fun, it’s still comedy, but we don’t think that doing what we normally do – which is longform improv comedy – is going to translate well. We’re going to experiment with some things.”
Cleveland says that, even in these times, and in this new format, ColdTowne won’t stop being funny. “The principals of the improv comedy we teach is not trying to be funny, just trying to be honest and truthful. And there’s a lot of honesty coming out right now, just everywhere you look. People are being brutally honest about their feelings and what they’re going through,” he says. “And it’s also about support and having each other’s backs. It’s not your idea that’s going to make the scene funny, it’s going to be the way that you support your scene partner. So it looks like globally there’s this support system that people are rallying behind, so I don’t think it’s harder to be funny. I think it’s easier to be funny.”