CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The laughs are making a comeback in the Queen City as Charlotte Comedy Theater prepares to welcome back crowds after not performing for a live audience in person for almost 18 months.
Keli Semelsberger, the owner of Charlotte Comedy Theater, said prior to the pandemic, improv groups were used to feeding off the energy of the audience.
When COVID-19 spread to Charlotte in March 2020 though, the laughs of a live crowd had to come to a silent halt.
But for someone who is used to thinking on her feet and not knowing how the story ends, Semelsberger knew she needed to pivot quickly.
“I’m grateful for the training and the 26 years of being in improvise because it was like, ok, this is not expected, but most of our suggestions from the audience aren’t expected either,” Semelsberger said. “You know, we don’t expect most of the things that we get. We go in blind, so I just was like well, how do you improvise this?”
The theater moved to online classes and shows and expanded its reach beyond Charlotte to a more global stage. But Semelsberger said the interaction online between the players just wasn’t the same.
“We want to get back on stage,” she said. “You know, we like to play. I mean, it’s about adult play and us being able to not be in charge, not worry about if we look good or if we’re being ‘good’ and being adult. This is about play.”
The theater lost its home at Wet Willie’s at the NC Music Factory amid the pandemic as the bar shut its doors.
Now the theater and its performers are looking toward hosting audiences once again at a new location Uptown soon, providing both the performers and crowd with an outlet for their emotions amid the pandemic.
“We’ve all been traumatized,” Semelsberger said. “The whole world’s in trauma right now, and improv is a great trauma therapy in a certain way, you know, because we’re all feeling it.”
Through its improv, Charlotte Comedy Theater is seeking to give people a different way to cope with their feelings by recognizing the shared experiences of the last year and a half.
“We aren’t bypassing the pain of our experience, but we’re shining a light of, wow, this is insane,” Semelsberger said. “You know, this is crazy.”
With so much division in the world throughout the pandemic, Semelsberger believes laughter and comedy are a unique kind of remedy that has the ability to unite people from all walks of life.
Charlotte Comedy Theater is hoping to reopen by October, and Semelsberger said plans include requiring vaccination cards for its performers and audience members.