Big Blue Door was founded by Joel Jones and Jen Hoffman Jones in the summer of 2012 to give the people of Charlottesville the chance to share their stories and talents with wit, humor, skill, and candor. This fall we begin our 11th season with improv classes back in the studio!
All our classes and shows combine the most innovative training anywhere with ongoing opportunities for original, exciting performance. Come see better, listen better, laugh louder, and maybe discover your own voice along the way!
- Longform improvisational comedy emphasizing strong character and scene work.
- Writing for stage, video, and audio that explores character, emotion and action using craft, clarity, and candor.
- True stories as the touchstone and anchor for understanding character, plot, and comedy.
We produce several original shows every month. Many of our classes and shows take place in our McGuffey Art Center space, Studio 20, on the second floor.
McGuffey Art Center
201 2nd St NW
For a segment on Big Blue Door that aired on PBS in 2018, click below:
Here’s a quick history:
Season 1: 2012-2013
In the summer of 2012 Jen and Joel moved back to Charlottesville after several years in New York and launched Big Blue Door. We started our website, created an LLC, and Joel began teaching storytelling through The Bridge PAI and Piedmont Council for the Arts, and Charlottesville’s first longform improv courses through Live Arts. Most of all, we launched our monthly Big Blue Door Jams, a story show with monthly themes. The Jams were immensely popular with standing-room only crowds and new storytellers from all walks of life!
Season 2: 2013-2014
In our second season our Big Blue Door Jams were featured on an NPR segment, stories from them were broadcast weekly on WTJU‘s Soundboard, and several of our storytellers were published in a special Valentines issue of the Cville Weekly. We taught our first independent improv classes at Directors Studio, and by the end of the year we put together Charlottesville’s first ever longform improv comedy ensemble, The Lady Pills, which performed locally and at the Magnet Theater in New York City. We also collected oral histories of refugees in the community as part of a Benefit for the local International Rescue Committee.
Season 3: 2014-2015
In our third season Big Blue Door joined McGuffey Art Center as an Associate Member, The Lady Pills performed as the opening act of the Richmond Comedy Festival, we introduced new teams and formats, including Smallprov, Monoscene, and our first two-team Harold Runs. The growth of our improv program pressed us to bid farewell to the regular Big Blue Door Jams and our signature show became Big Blue Door Improv Night every month at Cville Coffee. During this year we often rehearsed at Speak Language Center and performed many shows at Bon.
Season 4: 2015-2016
In our fourth season Big Blue Door joined McGuffey Art Center as a renting member of Studio 20. We quickly upgraded the studio with sound baffles and lights. Meanwhile we continued our innovative shows and classes. One highlight of the year was our run of Helix/Sleepover in the studio. Brian Weisbrod and Nauder Namaky launched our first indy show, OK Stupid, went on to become coaches for our performance groups, and joined with Joel Jones to form The Administration.
Season 5: 2016-2017
In our fifth season we expanded our improv shows to new venues including The Front Porch and Belmont Arts Collaborative, and mixed improv with stories in shows like The Experience. We also launched a new oral history project called TrueVille under the leadership of Melissa Wender, and launched a summer true stories performance series under the leadership of BK Marcus.
Season 6: 2017-2018
In our sixth season we created Charlottesville’s first-ever all-female improv group, Feminine Hijinks, premiered forms The Dish & The Living Room, and were featured on a public television show, WHTJ’s Charlottesville Inside Out. We sadly bid farewell to regular shows at Cville Coffee and in 2018 began regular improv performances at The Bridge, and more frequent performances at Belmont Arts Collaborative.
Season 7: 2018-2019
In our seventh season we launched our first full writing courses (Scene Sketch Scenario), began performing at Cardinal Point Winery, and brought in new coaches, teams, and teachers.
Season 8: 2019-2020
Big Blue Door’s eighth season began with new teams, forms, and excitement, but like most performance groups we were shut down by Coronavirus in March.
Season 9: 2020-2021
We had hopes of a full fall reopening but alas Coronavirus kept Big Blue Door mostly shut down. We did launch our first online Telling True Stories course in November and continued with online storytelling through the winter. Returning to our roots we presented Summer Story Saturdays, our first outdoor true stories shows at Cardinal Point Winery, in the summer of 2021.
Season 10: 2021-2022
Again our hopes for reopening were crushed by covid, but we presented a fall revival of the popular story shows at Cardinal Point, and we ran our first face-to-face storytelling classes in the fall, winter, and spring with a few class showcases and our first in-person advertised show, First Friday Stories in April. Plus the Cardinal Point Winery shows have been so much fun, we couldn’t wait till Summer and started Spring Saturday Stories in April! Best of all, we brought back in-person improv classes during the summer and our first ever Summer Improv Camp for kids!
Season 11: 2022-2023
This fall we begin our 11th season with improv classes back in the studio!
To keep up, why not “Follow” us by clicking the button on the upper right of our homepage, and “Like” us on Facebook? Heck, why not like us in real life by coming to our shows and consider taking a class!
Do you have an archive of stories told during Big Blue Door Jam?
Not yet, Karen. We have recordings of the shows, but these are still in a raw state and probably will stay that way until the organization grows a bit.
Have you ever considered working with the IRC or Adult Learning Center to promote the story project amongst Cville-based immigrants? As an ESL volunteer, I’ve heard some extremely powerful stories from local immigrants.
Thank you so much for the suggestion! We did work with IRC a little in the fall of 2012 when Jen was producing a play for the Hamner Theater and we would love to collaborate again. We’ve always hoped to expand into recording stories and oral histories and maybe developing shows out of that material as we grow and find people and resources to help us grow. Come talk to us after a Big Blue Door Jam!
Do you have any connections with Richmond or Secretly Y’all?
Only indirectly! Secretly Y’all was actually founded in Charlottesville but had already headed off to Richmond before Jen and I moved back here (we had been living in New York for several years). We met with two of the founders and they helped us find storytellers and advertise for our first storytelling show. Since then some of our storytellers have performed in Secretly Y’all. Whenever students take our Telling True Stories courses, I tell them about Secretly Y’all.
Of course these days we don’t produce regular storytelling shows, sadly. Too busy with improv and writing! But we hope to bring it back someday!