Ann Arbor Improv Comedy Hub Cultivates New Local Talent

. August 31, 2018.
Picture of Moni Jones, Doug Kolbicz, Corene Ford, Matt Swartz, Chris Fortin
From left to right: Moni Jones, Doug Kolbicz, Corene Ford, Matt Swartz, Chris Fortin

Walking into Ann Arbor’s Pointless Brewery and Theatre, the décor reinforces the fact that you are in a hybrid microbrewery/improv comedy venue. The bright red walls, chalkboard menu, and angled rows of chairs facing the low black stage in one corner of the room give the space a college town, casual vibe.

Husband and wife Jason and Tori Tomalia opened Pointless in 2015, and with regularly sold-out shows featuring local performers and ones with national reputations, the place has established itself as an Ann Arbor hotspot for improv comedy. Pointless offers a variety of comedy-based entertainment, as well as Jason’s cleverly named and tasty brews. But perhaps the most unique aspect is the “League of Pointless Improvisers”. This homegrown “house band” does more than provide laughs — they also help coach up-and-coming improvisers who hope someday to find themselves on the “Pointless” stage as members of the League.

Class for Improv

The night I visited was showcase night; two improv classes were onstage for thirty minutes each, performing short and long-form improv. Short-form involves people improvising from audience suggestions, offered every few minutes, a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”. Long-form is when the audience suggestions are made at the beginning of a longer sketch. “What’s unique about Pointless is that there’s a focus on long-form as opposed to short-form improv,” says Kiana Gandol, a student in the showcase’s second level class. “The teachers all maintain positive attitudes, so the atmosphere feels very safe.”

Gandol, like several of the improvisers at Pointless, and indeed like Tori Tomalia, who holds a Masters degree in Drama and Theatre for the Young from EMU, comes from a scripted theatre background, but she says that helps with improv. “I feel like most of my strengths as an improviser come from my more traditional theatre background”, says Gandol. “I came into the program without stage fright or trouble projecting onstage; it’s the making things up on the spot and reacting in the moment that’s challenging to me.”

For Donny Riedel, one of Pointless’ teachers, improv also informs his work with scripted theatre. “You don’t get to rehearse an Improv scene to find all the things you want to do, you just have to make stuff up confidently on the first try,” he says. “That has really helped me find interesting acting things during the rehearsal process for scripted shows. I try stuff, fail, learn from it, and grow!”

Coaching confidence

Riedel, who joined two other members of the League, Havah Roussel and Peter Felsman, to close out the showcase, has been teaching improv for about a year. “Coaching people to simply get words out of their mouths confidently is one of my favorite things to do,” he says. “Overall, I like to coach people, showing them that it feels good to fail confidently and learn from their mistakes.”

It’s clear that the Tomalias have created an environment at Pointless where performers, students and audience members can experience something magical together. “People have to work together to create art on the spot that they can only hope the audience will enjoy,” says Gandol.

Riedel agrees. “Improv comedy is a great leveler, and puts vastly different types of people in a kind of collaborative environment they might not get anywhere else. Heck, I feel like if in the outside world, people interacted the way they do in improv classes, we might all have a much better understanding of one another.”

$10-$15
Thursday-Sundays | 8pm
Fridays and Sundays | 8pm and 10pm
Sundays alternating open stage times
3014 Packard St.
989-455-4484 | pointlessbrew.com

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