When you think of improv comedy and beer, you think of fun and lighthearted times. And while Jason and Tori Tomalia’s Pointless Brewery & Theatre grew out of a very dark period in the Tomalias’ lives–in May 2013, Tori was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer–Pointless B & T is dark now only when the houselights go down. Then the stage lights up, literally with spotlights and figuratively with groups of comic improvisers ranging from duos to the house troupe of more than a half dozen. A performer asks the audience to suggest a topic–one night someone yelled “avoiding dog attacks,” another “ice cream truck”–and the improvisers picked up the topics and ran with them, creating scenes and vignettes that built upon each other to create fifteen-to-twenty-minute stories.
The first time I went, Pointless was not yet serving beer. I had root beer and a Zingerman’s brownie and sat close to the stage. I felt like I was watching storytellers and standup comedians improvising verbal jazz–on a metaphorical high wire–while dancing and tumbling. Hilarious hijinks cycled to comic pratfalls to poignant moments and back again. I was constantly aware I was watching something that never existed before and never will again. The performers repeatedly backed themselves into figurative corners and gracefully wriggled out again. We snickered, groaned, and giggled, and occasionally held our breath.
The second time I went, Pointless had gotten its license and was serving beer. It too was very good. Turns out that improv and brewing are connected. “They both come from this realm of a basic form or structure or recipe,” says Jason, the brewer. “But it’s all about what you bring to the table, whether it’s an improv group or a brewer; what can we do with these basic ingredients to make it something different?” Jason’s Pointless beers have whimsical and sometimes topical names–A New Year’s Ale, To Resist, Roasty Toasty, and Have Your Cake–and he plans to brew beers that, like the improv scenes, will incorporate ingredients suggested by patrons.
Pointless even offers age-appropriate improv-style activities for those too young to enjoy beer. On Saturday mornings, for Tori’s Little Peeps family program, Pointless is transformed into a playroom complete with wall-mounted Lego boards, balloons, and art supplies, plus performances of interactive tales and games for the popcorn-and-juice-box set. The day I went, the kids in the audience were invited to call out words related to the theme of the day, friendship. Then the performers improvised fluid human sculptures based on their suggestions. Later the troupe invited some of the kids to join them on stage and play theater games like standing in a circle and mimicking each other’s gestures and actions.
Tori’s treatments are holding the cancer at bay, and the Tomalias are excited about Pointless. “We want to make this a nice addition to the community,” says Jason. “We want to make it really welcoming for everyone,” adds Tori. Pointless Improv happens every Friday and Saturday in March (except March 19). See the calendar for details.