Laughs are something even folks with pinched pockets are willing to buy, and that's a lucky thing for Theatre 99 and co-artistic directors Greg Tavares and Brandy Sullivan. A $5 ticket to see live comedy still draws an audience. The duo also have a pretty smart fiscal plan in place, so the company has seen very little changes. "We have no staff. Greg and I are the only ones in the office weekly," Sullivan says. "Our mission has always been to keep prices low. We give out a ton of free passes throughout the year. We have a $5 night. And we try to keep it affordable." As a result, Theatre 99 still offers the same great Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday improv shows every week and continues to host the Improv-A-Thon, Charleston Comedy Festival, and Piccolo Fringe.
Tavares can't decide if it's a revolution or a tipping point, but he says there's an explosion of improv across the nation. "In the past 10 years, I've seen about 20 different improv festivals begin in places like New Orleans, St. Louis, Atlanta, and, of course, Charleston." Ironically, Sullivan says that participants in these events rarely walk away with more than a little exposure and a round of applause, but at the Charleston Comedy Festival, acts always make some cash. "Whatever they sell in tickets they keep. That never happens at other festivals!" she adds.
Buzz is already building for this year's Comedy Festival, co-sponsored by the Charleston City Paper. "We're starting to get submissions," Sullivan says. Comedians, improvisors, sketch artists, and others send in applications and video clips to vie for a spot in the festival.
And despite the down economy, this year's Improv-a-Thon will grow to two nights. "You can buy a $20 ticket to all the shows in a night or purchase shows individually for $5 a piece," Sullivan says.
Theatre 99 has also recently begun adding stand-ups to their lineup. Two weeks ago, well-known comedian Todd Barry made an appearance; in July, local fave Kenny Z took a trip down from the Big Apple to do a night of stand-up.
For a limited time only, audience members can purchase their very own 99 cent koozie at the concession stand when they purchase an equally tempting $2 Miller High Life. That's right — the Champagne of Beers tucked safely in a water-repellent jacket. Sullivan says, "Oh and we ring a bell each time someone buys one and shout 'Koozie'!" Sold!
The pair have plans for a new website as well. "We are hoping to have the launch of theatre99.com very soon, which will be a great way for people to find out more about the ongoing creative cornucopia," Sullivan says.