A 90-seat theater devoted to improv and sketch comedy is coming to the Norfolk Arts District, owned and operated by none other than Hampton Roads’ resident funnymen (and women), The Pushers.
“We’ve been around for nine years,” said co-founder of The Pushers, Bradford McMurran. “For nine years we’ve wanted to do this, to help put Norfolk on the comedy map. That it’s happening in the Arts District makes us even more pumped up.”
The theater, which will also host The Pushers’ comedy school, is slated to open in May or June. The space is on the 700 block of Granby, adjacent to The Texaco Building and the future Parlor on Granby.
“We’re hoping to be an entree in the grand buffet that is the Arts District,” said Pusher Ed Carden, a Cox High grad who works in the Virginia Beach Public Schools. “It’s a brave new world for us.”
The Pushers have been on one heck of a run the past few years. They launched the Norfolk Comedy Festival two years ago. They’re wrapping up a successful chapter of teaching around 100 students a term at The Muse. They’ve also seen a 50 Shades of Grey parody written by Brad, fellow Pusher Sean Devereux, and local theater mainstay Jeremiah Albers make it to off-Broadway and then onto a national tour. The show, called Cuff Me!, was well-received by The New York Times, and looks to be the first in a series of satirical shows written by the team, the next one spoofing Twilight and True Blood.
Improv and sketch comedy are about more than just the laughs to The Pushers.
“Improv forces you to play with other people–in order to create something good you have to work together,” said Pusher Alba Woolard, a Kempsville grad whose day job is as a standardized patient educator at EVMS. “In improv you always have to say Yes (to whatever the other actors are suggesting). It helps you start from a place of Yes in life.”
Ed called it “a form of applied philosophy.” Brad took it a step farther:
“It’s almost like Buddhism,” said Brad, a proud Portsmouth native who attended Norfolk Collegiate. “You have to retrain your mind to accept the other person’s energy.”
Along with the improv and sketch classes there are plans for acting classes, courses in film production and directing, and something that sounds crazy and amazing called musical improv that Sean described as a “Broadway musical that’s made up right on the spot.”
“The minority of people who take our classes want to make it a career,” said Sean, who went to First Colonial. “The majority are looking for something missing in their lives.”
The Pushers originally were formed at ODU by Ed, Brad, and Sean, who attended George Mason, with Alba joining the group in 2009. It was very cool to interview the The Pushers outside of their new theater today. Brother Rutter, owner of The Texaco Building, drove by and stopped to tell them how excited he was to have them as neighbors. Quincy from The Parlor stopped to chat as well. When The Pushers asked him about his expected hours, his answer was laced with the synergy and cohesion we hope to see as the thriving undercurrent of the neighborhood.
“That depends on you all,” Quincy said. “We’re geared toward what the Arts District needs.”
The Pushers site operations like Charleston’s Theatre 99 and NYC’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade, where Sean and Brad both trained, as inspiration. No doubt, their teachers would be proud.
“We’ve finally found a home of our own,” said Sean.