In 1984, I was asked if I knew anything about Improv and Sketch Comedy as an associate of mine was looking for a Resident Improv/Sketch Comedy Troupe to occupy the late night slot at a new “Theatre Bar” he was opening. Of course I lied and said that I was an expert on Improv and Sketch Comedy and then went out and bought every book I could find on these subjects and schooled myself right quick. (remember when we had bookstores!?) Turns out I did become somewhat of an expert with the assistance of one of the most talented and generous group of comedians I could assemble including Dan Beebe, Penny Slusher, Keevin Peuse, David Jahn, Malvina Golden, Claire Bass, Fran Austin, Bill Hood and many, many others over the years. We changed casts and venues multiple times but we became the longest running Professional Show in Nashville and coined the phrase “Nashvegas” which is still bandied about today!
I ultimately closed the show in 1986 or 87 (hey, it was a long time ago) to focus on other ventures Theatrical and otherwise until the very plucky and very persistent Joe Correll persuaded me to reboot the company in 1989. Once again we were putting on Improv/Sketch Comedy Shows under the Rave Revues banner that Kate Gladfelter and I had created a year earlier. That partnership expanded not only our creative team, but eventually our creative mission as well ultimately establishing The Avante Garage Comedy Repertory Theatre Company which Joe and I founded and ran with our partners Jamey Green and Kathy Shepard. In 1992, the four of us opened The Avante Garage Dinner Theatre where we wrote, directed, produced, and performed in original musicals and plays (and yes, even Improv/Sketch Comedy Shows) in addition to building the sets, cooking the food, washing the dishes and scrubbing the bathrooms) After two years of kicking ass, earning rave reviews and a handful of awards we broke even on our initial investment and closed the theatre. We mounted a few more productions in other venues before picking up and moving to NYC where things took an unexpected turn as both Joe and I ended up working on Broadway for 10 years but not in the way we had anticipated (but that’s a whole other Oprah!)
More than the awards, the stellar reviews, the high profile bookings at Vanderbilt University, Scene Three Productions, Actor’s Playhouse, The Nashville Symphony, Opryland Hotel, World Famous Exit/Inn, Station Inn, Crawdaddy’s Restaurant and the outstanding creative product we’ve amassed, I guess the thing I’m most proud of is across multiple companies and multiple venues we ALWAYS paid our actors, even when we, as owner/actors, didn’t get paid. $25 a performance if I remember correctly which back in the day was a lot!
Fast Forward to 2019 and we’re making plans to launch a comeback. We’re writing new shows and re-working existing shows. But the biggest adventure lies ahead with the purchase of our own space in Lima, Ohio! As our theme song goes “When you’re out for a lark and you want it first class, come out and park you (shh!) at The Avante Garage!”