Standing in Kickstand Comedy’s new space, the former home of the Brody Theater, it’s not hard to feel like you’re watching a home renovation show. Kickstand’s artistic director and co-founder, Dylan Reiff, gestures widely and says things about “maximizing space” and “opening up sight lines.” They’ve only had the theater since February (they’re currently in a “soft open,” according to managing director Kara Moore), but already the stage is flipped from where it stood—next to the heavily trafficked Northwest Broadway entrance—over to the other side of the room. Rows of chairs sit in place for an event happening later in the day because, even as Kickstand’s staff and board members consider paint swatches (“probably eggplant”) and incentives for their upcoming Kickstarter fundraising campaign, the team knows the shows must go on.
Kickstand Comedy first opened in late 2014, in a basement room of the Hollywood district’s bike shop bar Velo Cult. They operated for four months before the city shut them down for being a fire hazard. But in that time, the space ignited something else.
“I kept hearing about this Kickstand,” says the current Kickstand board president Chris Williams. “I’d be like, ‘What is it?’ and I’d hear, ‘You just gotta go.’” “It was pulling people from other communities.” Moore agrees, “We had a melting pot, of every kind of comedy, from all over.”
“At the time, in Portland, if you did improv you kind of belonged to a theater,” explains Moore. “But in larger markets, like Chicago, you could just start a team and play anywhere. Kickstand started a clubhouse where anyone could play.”
“At the time, in Portland, if you did improv you kind of belonged to a theater. But in larger markets, like Chicago, you could just start a team and play anywhere. Kickstand started a clubhouse where anyone could play.”—Kara Moore, Kickstand’s managing director
When Shelley McLendon started the Siren Theatre later that year, she offered Kickstand the school-style rooms above it as their next home. It was larger, but Kickstand once again began to outgrow its bounds. They were regularly turning attendees away from Mariah Mercedes Munoz’s Girls with Heads show, so Williams brought Munoz over to the Secret Society—where William’s improv troupe Broke Gravy hosts local acts through their show The Turnout. Williams worried about hurt feelings over the change, so he asked Moore, “Did I snag this amazing thing from my friends?” Moore replied, “Dude, we’re an incubator. This is exactly what we want.” “That mentality,” Williams says, “is why I said yes to being on the board, right there.”
From a basement, to a schoolroom, and now in their own theater, there’s a real sense of momentum to Kickstand Comedy. It’s encouraging to see a creative space opening when so many have closed in response to Portland’s rent crisis and increasing unaffordability. One thing working in Kickstand’s favor is that their new landlords are Home Forward, Multnomah County’s main affordable housing provider. And Kickstand’s inclusive mission makes them a good fit as renters: They already had relationships with nonprofits like XRAY.fm, but now they’re working with Outside In on teaching communication workshops.
All three—Reiff, Moore, and Williams—have great love for the Brody, so plans are in the works to repurpose the Brody’s old bar into a lounge space, set in a room aside from the main room so people can have a drink without interrupting the show. (“Comedians are loud,” Reiff laughs.) Other renovation plans include gender-neutral bathrooms, painting the space in shades that will look good with a variety of skin tones, ASL interpreted performances, a podcasting recording studio, and “a bunch of new local monthly shows.” They’d even like to get into the basement of the Brody—once they can build usable staircases—since that would create even more room for their classes.
“This is an awareness campaign. All the choices we make, we want to make around people feeling welcome. We would love for people to be a part of it. We would love for people to come use it.”—Dylan Reiff, Kickstand’s artistic director and co-founder
On Monday April 15, the Kickstand Kickstarter campaign will launch to help finance all these renovations. “This isn’t just a fundraising campaign.” Reiff says. “This is an awareness campaign. All the choices we make, we want to make around people feeling welcome. We would love for people to be a part of it. We would love for people to come use it.”