Special/Signature Issues » 2013 Top 40 Under 40

Coalition Theater Directors

Matt Newman, 28,Managing Director. Katie Holcomb, 27, Artistic Director. David Pijor, 28,Communications Director.

  • Scott Elmquist

Crazy things happen at the hands of Coalition Theater. No BS Brass! band played music before improvisational sketches set to tales from its touring vehicle, the Meat Wagon. Local blogger Mark Cheatham proposed to his fiancee during Richmond Famous, a popular series that features unscripted comedy based around notable local personalities. And of course, there’s the unexpected and unrehearsed humor that leaves faces red and ribs hurting.

And this year the group plunged forward with a plan to offer a permanent space for all the fun, the Coalition Theater — downtown’s only comedy club centered on long-form improvisation. The trio at the helm is Matt Newman, Katie Holcomb and David Pijor — old friends who met through Richmond’s ComedySportz.

When that venue closed its Staples Mill location, the three decided to pursue their own interests, raising $27,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to open the Coalition Theater in August at 8 W. Broad St. There, they’re helping grow the group they started four years ago as 10 performers in the Richmond Comedy Coalition to nearly 40 at the Coalition Theater.

“Richmond has always been more of a stand-up [comedy] town,” Pijor says. “Improv teaches people how to collaborate successfully and the creative process of brainstorming.”

The Coalition Theater offers classes and performance space for local and touring performers and groups from other states. “With long-form, because you’re taking time and pacing, digging deeper into character, you discover what’s funny about the piece as you go on,” Holcomb says. “It’s amazing, we’ve been getting a really good response from crowds.”

The theater’s also taking the positive effect of improv into the community. It has done programs with Richmond Youth Symphony and the Maggie Walker Governor’s School. And last winter it worked with Art 180 to teach 12-week classes at Boushall Middle School, Holcomb says, helping kids with confidence and communication.

The three also lead corporate classes to help build teamwork skills at such places as Capital One and Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical school pediatric department. “Improv breaks down barriers and can help them work together to find solutions,” Newman says.

It’s been surprising to see the diversity of people who come out to take their classes and attend workshops, Newman says. And Pijor has been amazed at how fast they’ve been able to build a community around the theater. “There’s so much we want to do,” he says, adding that they plan to offer sketch comedy writing classes and performances. “But we have to keep consistent for a while and not overload ourselves.”

The Coalition Theater offers shows every Thursday through Saturday — and these Top 40 recipients hit the stage together at the club, flexing their improv muscles, during Saturday’s 10 p.m. show under the name Middle Management.

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