Cambridge Local First

ImprovBoston comedy club suspends work, hoping for winter classes, full 2021 reopening

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By Marc Levy on Monday, June 22, 2020 on Cambridge Day. You can check out the article on Cambridge Day here.

The ImprovBoston comedy club and school is suspending operations. (Photo: ImprovBoston)

The ImprovBoston comedy club is suspending operations, with all full-time staff members starting a voluntary furlough Friday in hopes of a full restart in January, administrators of the nonprofit theater said Monday.

“The decision was made after much deliberation among the administrative team in consultation with the theater’s board of directors, surrounding theaters and upon the advice of health and business consultants” to keep performers, students, technical and front-of-house staff, musical directors and guests safe, according to an email.

“We, as an admin team, made the choice in March to keep working,” but as of late May, posting online shows and classes while trying to fundraise was depleting the financial resources of the theater, managing director Josh Garneau said. The digital revenue was not enough.

“It looked like the best choice is to go dark,” Garneau said, with the staff furloughs allowing the nonprofit to keep paying rent. “The smart choice is to keep our eye on reopening next year.”

The Central Square comedy club ImprovBoston has lasted for 38 years by using revenue from its weekly shows to cover the costs of its 40 Prospect St. theater, comedy school operations and other work. That changed March 13, when the coronavirus closed the club’s doors. But around $75,000 was needed monthly for operating expenses, Garneau said. The government’s Paycheck Protection Program loan was to run out June 15 – later extended to Friday – and the club hoped a 40-hour “ImprovBoston Virtual Marathon” this month would raise $114,000.

Theodora Skeadas, executive director of the small-business organization Cambridge Local First, was disappointed but not surprised Monday to hear of ImprovBoston’s decision.

“They’re not the only ones to be in that position. I’ve spoken with numerous arts, entertainment and theater venues similar to theirs and they’re all in the same position. They’re charged often upward of $10,000 a month for rent but not able to make very much at all [in revenue],” Skeadas said. Shifting the arts online is “a harder sell, and they can certainly don’t have the same capacity. It’s hard to cover all your costs” that way.

Fundraiser delayed, then canceled

ImprovBoston’s marathon was bumped to this past weekend from its initial June 5 start in respect for Black Lives Matter protests happening locally and nationwide. But those concerns still dominate the attention of many, and ultimately leadership just decided not to run the marathon. “We felt it was inappropriate to put our cause out there [when it would] compete” with an issue staff cared so much about, Garneau said. Eventually, there will be a fundraise and “we will do it an a meaningful and impactful way that doesn’t get in the way of a necessary social change.”

The theater will stayed focused on raising money to prepare for reopening and in-person comedy classes could resume in early winter, if safe; more than 300 students were registered for comedy classes in improv, sketch and standup in March, the nonprofit reported.

Mike Carr, the theater’s artistic director, said the pause also gave him a chance to reset the direction of the theater.

“Despite the sadness we all feel in making this decision,” Carr said, “we’re being given a chance to reflect and make changes to our theater to ensure it is a more inclusive space for all artists in the future. ImprovBoston has had some turbulent periods in its past, and never had the chance to take a step back and heal. We see this as an opportunity to become a better theater.”


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