Santa as Dionysus in the company's upcoming playStandup comedian Ramon Rivas II—named one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch”—has said that “the Cleveland comedy scene has never been more abundant.” So does Cleveland really need another comedy troupe? Ryan Santa and Beau Buccilli answer that question with a resounding yes, and they’re throwing a launch party for their new company, Common Room Theatre, tonight to prove it.
“Our aim is to add more original, scripted comedy to the Cleveland scene. Cleveland is traditionally a big standup town,” says Santa. “There are a few sketch comedy groups around, [and] we’re looking to add to that.”
After nearly two years of development, Common Room Theatre is finally coming to fruition. Santa and Buccilli are acting as co-directors, inspired by their shared desire to create sketch comedy and dissatisfaction with the prevalence of self-deprecating humor.
“A big part of our comedy is going to be the positive aspect. I don’t want anyone hanging their head or having to be the butt of their own joke at our show,” says Santa. “We really just want people to have a good time. We want people to come together as a community, as a city, as just people.”
The company’s first show, Pop-Cleveland!, will launch in September at Forest City Brewery. An interactive comedy quiz show that “tests how Cleveland you are,” Pop-Cleveland! will feature comedic sketches based on the Midwestern way of life, Cleveland trivia, interactive "Choose Your Own Adventure" scenes, and games such as “Cleveland Against the World.” In one round, the audience will be shown pictures from the Cleveland area and asked to name the location.
One of the most distinguishing factors of Pop-Cleveland! is its unique mix of theatre and technology; audience members can play the games on their cell phone, either individually or on teams. Fellow CWRU graduate John Horton programmed and developed the smartphone games using Socket.IO—a customizable system that allows for real-time communication. The scores for each player will be tallied up and stored in a database called Mongo.
Buccilli and Santa had a strong knowledge base for creating Pop-Cleveland!, having attended theatre school at Case Western Reserve University. Fellow company members T.J. and Caroline Gainley also attended CWRU. Santa and Caroline are Cleveland natives, while Buccilli is from Pittsburgh and T.J. hails from Fort Collins, Colorado.
Santa and Buccilli have been collaborating for six years, including sketch shows, plays, and podcasts. Both were members of the Public House Theatre in Chicago. Santa initially sought to bring a show from Chicago to Cleveland, but a turn of events caused that plan to fall apart. Santa and Buccilli decided to carry on the show themselves, and Santa moved to Cleveland in 2016 to see it through.
And now Common Room Theatre is ready for its close-up. “We just want to provide an opportunity for people to have a good time and a new way for people to spend their nights and have a night on the town,” says Buccilli. “Although it is very much a celebration of Cleveland, you don’t have to be from Cleveland, you don’t need to live here to get the jokes. It’s for everybody.”
Tonight’s launch party will celebrate the debut of Common Room Theatre with scene readings from the company's upcoming play The Book of Dionysus, raffles, and interactive games about Cleveland. The party takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Forest City Brewery (2135 Columbus Rd.).