Photo by Martyn Kyle

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. 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.

We teach:

  1. Longform improvisational comedy emphasizing strong character and scene work.
  2. Writing for stage, video, and audio that explores character, emotion and action using craft, clarity, and candor.
  3. 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
Charlottesville, VA

For a segment on Big Blue Door that aired on PBS in 2018, click below:

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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 began our monthly Big Blue Door Jams, a story show with monthly themes. 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.

Season 2: 2013-2014
In our second season recordings from our Big Blue Door Jams were broadcast weekly on WTJU‘s Soundboard, we taught our first independent improv classes at Directors Studio, our storytellers were published in a special Valentines issue of the Cville, and our shows were featured on an NPR segment. By the end of the year we put together Charlottesville’s first ever longform improv comedy ensemble, The Lady Pills, which performed 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 let us to bid farewell to the regular Big Blue Door Jams and our signature show became Big Blue Door Improv Night on the third Thursday of 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, 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. We also upgraded our studio with sound baffles and lights. One highlight of the year was our run of Helix/Sleepover in the studio.

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
Coronavirus kept Big Blue Door shut down through the fall, but we launched our first online Telling True Stories course in November and continued with online storytelling through the winter, and our first live storytelling classes and true stories shows in the summer of 2021.

Season 10: 2021-2022
To begin our tenth season in the fall of 2021, we’ll be relaunching our improv programs with live classes while continuing the storytelling shows. We hope to return to live longform improv performance runs by the spring of 2022!

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!



  1. 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.

    1. Cora,
      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!

    1. 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!

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