After shows at the increasingly successful Thursday night late Improv Jam at the Cabaret Theater, Downtown, several of the regular comedians would sit around and fantasize about plans for the future.
"What if there were a central hub where we could have all these different types of comedy, and not just as a late-night act that gets second billing?" said comedian Abby Fudor, remembering their conversations. "We felt there was this clear audience interest and a clear artist desire."
Friday night, that vision will become the Arcade Comedy Theater, which opens for its first show at 8 p.m. at 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown.
Ms. Fudor, one of five founding directors, describes a variety show concept for the theater, with something different at every performance. The "Arcade" name was chosen to emphasize the eclectic nature of its comedy programming, from improv to sketch to stand-up (the opening weekend lineup even includes a yo-yo performer).
They also plan to use the space during the day to teach comedy classes and host workshops with visiting comedians. A comedian from Chicago might do a stand-up performance in the evening, for example, and teach a class the next day.
The founding directors have varied backgrounds in comedy. Ms. Fudor, 30, of Shadyside is a founding member of the all-female sketch and variety group Frankly Scarlett. Kristy Nolen, 41, of Upper St. Clair has spent the past 20 years in Chicago, Amsterdam and Los Angeles, performing and teaching comedy with groups such as the Second City Touring Company and iO West. Her husband, Jethro Nolen, 39, of Upper St. Clair has also performed comedy in those cities.
Michael Rubino, 27, of Highland Park has been a part of the sketch/improv troupe The Cellar Dwellers for more than a decade, and Randy Kirk, 38, of Avalon has written, performed and promoted comedy in Pittsburgh for many years.
The group got an encouraging reception from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust when it approached the Trust about the idea to start a comedy theater. The Trust eventually secured space for the group next to the Harris Theater on Liberty Avenue.
The theater opened for a preview show last month during the Gallery Crawl.
The lineup for its official opening weekend this Friday and Saturday includes "Pittsburgh Dad" Curt Wootton and musician Lee Terbosic on Friday night and Post-Gazette sportswriter and stand-up comedian Gene Collier and his son Sean on Saturday night.
The full opening weekend lineup is available at right and at www.arcadecomedytheater.com.
The theater will open with shows weekly at 8 and 10 Friday and Saturday nights, Ms. Fudor said, and they hope relatively quickly to add a midnight show or a family-friendly Sunday afternoon show.
Eventually, the theater would like to offer programs on weeknights as well.
"We want this to be a hub where all these different audiences are coming," Ms. Fudor said. "You don't even have to look at the calendar to see what's playing tonight -- you know it's going to be unique, it's going to be funny, it's going to be different."
They plan to charge about $10 per ticket, give or take $5 depending on the show. Ms. Fudor estimates that the theater can seat about 75.
Dedicated comedy theaters exist in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, she said, but are fairly unusual in smaller cities. And the concept of a "variety show" comedy theater doesn't really exist anywhere else, she said.
The founders hope that by seeing such a broad spectrum of comedic performances, audiences will become more educated about forms of comedy.
"They can get a wider understanding and appreciation," said Ms. Fudor. "We hope to elevate and advance the art of comedy in Pittsburgh."
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308.