Beer and improvisational theatre lovers in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area can soon enjoy a space that combines both.
Eastern Michigan University alumni, Tori and Jason Tomalia, will open Pointless Brewery and Theatre, 3014 Packard Road, Ann Arbor, this summer.
Tori said the population in the area appreciates the “mindset” of theater and craft beer.
“[Improv theater is] super creative and really fresh and sort of instantaneous,” she said. “There’s that same sort of thing with craft beer. People come up with wacky combinations and crazy creative stuff. The two are sort of creatively the same kind of thing. It’s just one you drink and one you watch.”
The couple met at the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Jason was working as a performer and writer.
They moved to Ann Arbor and studied theatre in EMU’s communication, media and theatre arts graduate program. Tori earned a master’s of fine arts in applied drama and theatre for the young. Jason earned a master’s of arts in theater arts with an emphasis on improvisational theatre.
While at EMU, Tori wrote “Safe Schools Project: LGBTQ,” a show that toured area schools to enlighten teachers about the issues LGBT students deal with. The couple co-wrote and Tori directed “Taking Flight: Tales of Courage,” which toured Michigan schools. The play was based on international folktales.
Tori said EMU’s program brought together all the work she had done with teaching and theatre in the past.
“I think with the young audience, they’re sometimes more willing to go to bizarre places with you and get really crazy ideas,” she said. “They’ll just be like, ‘Oh, OK.’ You can be really creative and fantastical and I love being able to do that.”
Jason said opening a theatre was “the back-burner-plan.”
“The more practical plan would be [Tori] would get a professor job and [we’d] be able to work toward getting ready to open the dream business,” he said. “But we didn't know when that would be.”
While Tori worked as a teacher’s assistant and substitute teacher, Jason got connected with the Detroit improv scene and took classes at the Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale. He worked with people in the class to create an improv group.
They skipped the practical plan and decided to open their business when Tori was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in May 29, 2013. She said they needed to think about what they wanted to focus on.
The name came from Jason trying to encourage Tori when she was feeling sick after her treatment.
“I was like, ‘this just feels pointless, it feels like everything is pointless,’” she said. “In his perfect improviser, creative way, he said, ‘Well, what if everything in the whole world is pointless? Everything we do, every day, maybe that’s pointless. So then, why not follow your dreams, and open a pointless brewery and theater?’ He got me laughing and I was like, ‘Yea, you should just follow your dreams.’”
Jason will brew the craft beer served. He has been brewing beer for seven years.
“I fell in love with it ever since I started doing it,” he said. “I enjoy every aspect of it, even sanitizing stuff doesn't bother me.”
He said bringing improv to the beer is part of their business model.
“I want to take some audience suggestions, maybe based on the vibe, the feel that they had of the show that night and, off those suggestions, [create] a beer,” Jason said.
The theater will feature established improv groups Friday and Saturday nights.
“Yes, it’s all made up on the spot,” Jason said. “But improv groups themselves, they get together, they’ve been friends for a long time, they work together [and] they rehearse together. There’s a lot of time and energy that goes into being comfortable enough to go up onstage and riff off whatever the audience shouts at you.”
The Pointless Improvisers, the theater’s “home team,” will do sets in combination with the featured groups. They will also write sketch comedy and Internet content for a Web series.
Saturday nights will be family-friendly nights where children can participate in interactive theater. Local music acts will play Sunday nights.
“Keeping with the same feeling of the creative improvised stuff, it wouldn’t be a cover band, but people doing original stuff,” Tori said.
The theater will sell concession-style snacks and beverages. People will be allowed to bring food with them.
Tickets will cost $10.
Pointless Brewery and Improv Theatre will also offer improv classes for all levels of experience taught by improv actors who have experience teaching in the area.
“We want it to be not only people who are really interested in theater or performance or stuff like that,” Tori said. “But also people who just want to give it a try. So not so much pressure to be perfect or anything, just to have fun.”
They will offer deals for groups who sign up for classes.
“We want it to have a really nice community feeling where people feeling really welcome and they feel like they’re part of it,” Tori said.
Jason said since they live in the neighborhood, they have a “vested interest in making this successful and giving back in any way that we can.”
He said theater teaches people honesty, empathy and collaboration.
“Those are values I think we all can thrive with,” he said. [We can] do better if we are focused on being kind to one another.”
Tori said places like their theater show the values of a community.
“You hear about all the big-box shops that are taking over everything, but what makes cities unique and really memorable are the kinds of things that reflect the feeling of that community and what’s important and valuable to people in that community,” she said.
Tori and Jason have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000. Donations can be made at http://kck.st/1EEAQ08.