For the first time in its 29-year history, ComedySportz Quad-Cities (CSzQC) will make its home outside Rock Island this summer, by moving regular matches to new locations in Moline and Davenport.
After shows the last weekend of May, the improv-comedy troupe – one of 28 affiliates of the worldwide organization – will begin performing at the Spotlight Theatre, 1800 7th Ave., Moline, July 13 and 20, and One Voice QC church in NorthPark Mall, 320 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport, Aug. 10 and 17. They plan to alternate shows between venues each month, including their first-ever in Iowa, Spotlight owner Brent Tubbs said Tuesday.
“I've been involved with ComedySportz since I was 16,” the Rock Island High alum said. “It's such a mobile show. We're all really super excited about it. We will be able to cross-promote each other's shows, help each other.”
After years at The Circa '21 Speakeasy space (1818 3rd Ave., Rock Island), CSzQC opened to a standing-room-only crowd at the larger, renovated Establishment Theatre, 220 19th St., on Nov. 24, 2010.
In its first six years, the restored 1939 movie theater hosted more than 1,000 improv shows, stand-up, sketch comedy, community events, corporate parties, fundraisers, movies, wedding receptions, and concerts, according to theater manager and CSzQC CEO Patrick Adamson.
"We've done a lot in that place, it's been a great home for us," he said Wednesday, noting the Guys in Ties comedy troupe does another 100 shows a year throughout the area.
Unlike stand-up comedy, in which one performer tells pre-planned jokes to the audience, improv comedy involves a group of performers making up scenes and playing games on the spot based on audience suggestions, according to cszworldwide.com. Matches feature two teams competing for laughs and points, moderated by a referee.
Moving is "an exciting opportunity to put our stamp in Iowa, as well as a new place in Illinois, and to be free of the responsibility with the brick and mortar," Adamson said. "We are much more than one building.” Since announcing on social media, “people are excited,” he said. “They don't care where we are, as long as we are. They're willing to follow the product.”
The former Rocket Theater in downtown Rock Island closed in 1989, re-opening in 1996 as a venue for dance clubs and live music. It closed again in 1997 and was the second Brew & View movie theater from May 2005 to February 2006.
In August 2010, ComedySportz became its new tenants and began renovations, with the help of the Development Association of Rock Island (the theater's owner) and Renaissance Rock Island.
“The Establishment has been a great incubator,” Patrick Adamson said in a recent six-minute video about the move, with CSzQC co-founder Jeff Adamson.
“A lot has changed since 1990, since 2010,” Patrick said, noting they were proud to host five ComedySportz World Championships in Rock Island. “The landscape of entertainment has changed."
Competing with mobile phones and streaming services, he said: “There is no denying the absolute powerful, primal, magical connection that takes place when you are together. When you are together, you laugh differently, you laugh more genuinely. I think making this change is allowing us to be more unique, to be an attraction – to bring our show, which has a proof of concept, of being able to travel, and we can take it to where the people are.”
“It was a cool space, but it had a lot of issues,” Tubbs (who's performed with ComedySportz in California) said of The Establishment, noting the lobby ceiling often leaked after rains. “They have audiences on both sides of the river, the Iowa side. Whether we want to admit it or not, the river is a divider. They started looking at it, and they wanted to bring the shows to the people instead of having people come to them.”
"We've invested in that building, above and beyond the initial investment," Patrick said. "It's a 1939 building. It's seen a lot of years, a lot of weather. The Establishment is a beautiful room in an old building.”
They chose One Voice QC because owner Scott Schaefer and his family have been longtime supporters. "That relationship was already established," Patrick said. "We've shared similar values and ideals. They have a great family base, which is what ComedySportz is. Our show accessible to everyone – clean, by being engaging, crossing generations.”
“They have a great performance space,” and it's the same with the facility and philosophy at the Spotlight, he said. “It's a theater group that cares deeply about educating families, children. They can receive us immediately, with a great stage, lights, and sound. Those things for us made it a no-brainer.”
ComedySportz will do their uncensored 9:30 p.m. shows at the Spotlight, but not at the church (which is across from Von Maur), and will just start with Saturday shows and grow from there. They've usually had Friday/Saturday shows in Rock Island.
“Hosting events ourselves was a revenue stream. Will it be hard to give up that revenue stream? Sure,” Patrick said of The Establishment, noting that's balanced by relinquishing the time, effort and cost to host those events and maintain the building. “We are passionate performers – we love to create, improvise, to entertain.”
The Spotlight Theatre and Event Center launched a year ago this month at the former Scottish Rite Cathedral, and hosts theatrical productions, children's theater camps, classes, receptions, and other private events. Tubbs said that CSzQC will fit doing second and third weekends every other month.
“When we started looking at the dates, it worked out, with us during our dark months,” he said. “It really works out great.”