Monday, January 9, 2012

Comedy theater comes to North Little Rock

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 12:55 PM

15 characters played by a cast of three at Radio Music Theater - COURTESY OF STEVE AND VICKY FARRELL
  • courtesy of Steve and Vicky Farrell
  • 15 characters played by a cast of three at Radio Music Theater

15 characters played by a cast of three at Radio Music Theater
  • courtesy of Steve and Vicky Farrell
  • 15 characters played by a cast of three at Radio Music Theater

In April, Vicky and Steve Farrell plan to open The Joint, a comedy/rock club cum coffeehouse/bar, in that gaping storefront on Argenta's Main Street. The Farrell's are new to Little Rock, but they're no strangers to comedy or theater. They met in the mid-70's, as college theater geeks, performing in a summer show on a Mississippi Riverboat. They married and acted in conventional plays in Minneapolis before launching two comedy ventures in Houston,Texas. The first of those, The Comedy Workshop, hosted national acts such as Rodney Dangerfield and Robin Williams.

Their North Little Rock venue will borrow from their second Houston venture, Radio Music Theater, a conceptual approach to two act plays, involving a cast of three tackling 20 or more characters. On weekends, The Joint's large stage will host similarly structured plays riffing on local politics and other topics. But the coffee/comedy fusion is new to the Farrells, and they're branching out in other ways, too. They plan to have a small stage and a permanent piano in the coffee shop, which will open early and close late, serving wine and beer at night. The space seats up to 30 and will host open mics and informal music. The large stage, in a room which can accommodate 120, will host Wednesday night improv and Thursday night local and national music acts.

"We want it to be a clubhouse where people who like what we're doing can hang out and meet their friends," said Steve. "So maybe they'll come for coffee in the afternoon and then come back for an evening show."

About a decade ago, the Farrell's began actively searching for a "relaxing" place to relocate after they'd "done the big city," according to Steve.

They dismissed any place with cold weather. Charleston lost out because of hurricanes. Santa Fe has water rationing; Austin has traffic. "We only looked at places we thought were beautiful, where the people were friendly," said Steve. "With it's rolling hills and the river, Little Rock was a standout, especially after we got to know people in the Argenta arts community."

But originally, they encountered Little Rock on happenstance. "We were flying into Memphis, but we ended up having to fly into Little Rock. So we rented a car and drove to Memphis," said Steve. "Otherwise, we never would have considered Little Rock."

They convinced their adult children and Steve's parents to relocate, as well. Over the past year the whole family has, in staggered succession, situated itself in Little Rock. The Farrell's son Adam and his wife Sara will handle the coffee shop ("He's partial to African coffees," said Steve), while their daughter Erika and her husband Ross Peters will juggle promoting The Joint with their public relations day-jobs at KATV and The Peabody.

Steve writes the plays, and both he and Vicky act. For the past six months, they've been scouring local theater, comedy and music events for their third cast member — and they think they've found someone. This person will also manage The Joint Venture — The Joint's weekly improv group.

Steve's writing resume is impressive. It includes film shorts for Saturday Night Live and clips for National Public Radio programs. Their plays will be family-friendly — "Nothing you wouldn't see on a CBS sitcom," said Steve. "We're used to broadcast standards, so we don't get laughs over four letter words."

The Joint is located at 301 Main Street in North Little Rock. The coffee shop will open in April, and comedy shows will start in May.

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