The River City’s laugh factory plays it by ear

Photo by Austin Walker.
Photo by Austin Walker.
Photo by Austin Walker.
Photo by Austin Walker.

If you’re looking for belly-aching comedy and fresh entertainment, Coalition Theater is the way to go.

Founded by a group of longtime performers in 2013, Coalition provides a mixture of sketch comedy and improv. The founders had their own humble comedic beginnings in Richmond, performing in spaces like Gallery5, Art6 and more.

Matt Newman, the executive director who’s been a part of Coalition Theater from the beginning, said the theater has provided the performers a space to exercise their art without limitations.

“We’re in control of everything,” Newman said. “When we have some weird ideas that we want to try, we have the space for it … If you have an idea and you need an audience for it, we’ll give you the time.”

Newman, a Richmond native, has been performing improv for nearly 15 years and studied at iO – formerly known as ImprovOlympic – in Chicago. Notable alumni from iO include Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler.

“I think we have a really strong, diverse group of people, especially in terms of theatre background,“ Newman said.

Coalition offers classes on stand-up, improv, sketch comedy, writing and more. According to Newman, it’s not unusual for graduates of Coalition’s teaching programs to join the regular performers. In fact, he said performances by those who are new to the improv scene are almost consistently his favorite.

“The energy is so triumphant when these people get off stage,” Newman said. “It’s a different sort of show than people who have been doing it every week or every other week for years.”

Students enroll in courses for many reasons, from working on overcoming personal fears to improving communication skills in professional settings.

Newman was adamant, however, that the benefits of participating run deeper than that.

“The sorts of things we work on in terms of communication, being emotionally available, actively listening to people, being aware of your own emotions … not knowing what’s going to happen next and being in a position of power because you’ve experienced that,” Newman said. “All of those things we build up … I think everyone could benefit from it.”

Overall, Newman said the audience is at the crux of any improv performance. At every show, audience members play a huge role in shaping the show.

“The audience is 100 percent a part of the show,” Newman said. “Because we are creating it with them, the audience’s response to something, or lack of response, all sort of shapes the rest of the show.”

A comedy show is there to be appreciated in whatever way the audience wants, Newman said. Laughing and enjoying yourself is an appropriate response to the performances. Some audience members, however, may glean something more substantial than cheap laughs.

“It is theatre and it is an art form and it can get really incredible to see,” Newman said. “It’s kind of like this lightning-in-a-bottle, tightwire act to watch these people … it’s different from some sort of narrative comedy where something has been written and honed and is being presented.”

Coalition holds shows throughout the week. For information on performances, visit the theater’s website at

Spectrum Editor, Austin Walker

Austin Walker, photo by Brooke MarshAustin is a sophomore print journalism major. He started at the CT as a contributing writer, and frequently covers work done by artists and performers both on and off campus. He hopes to one day be a columnist writing about art that impacts culture, politics and documenting the lives of extraordinary and everyday people. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


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