Taylor Cotter Bruneaux knows the transformative power of laughter. Ten years ago, she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she wasn’t doing great. “I was lonely and depressed, which I think a lot of comedians are,” she recalls. So Cotter Bruneaux tried something new: she took a class in improvisational comedy.
Through unscripted joke-telling, Cotter Bruneaux built herself back up. She honed her improv skills, she became heavily involved in the Boston comedy scene, and she served as executive producer for more than 100 improv shows. Her husband, Luke Bruneaux, is also a prolific improv comic and comedy producer, when he’s not working as a director of data science for a major medical company.
So when the couple returned to their native Rhode Island in 2017, it only made sense that they would start their own venue, Kismet Improv. Nestled into the Hope Artiste Village complex in Pawtucket, Kismet is a black box theater with a simple stage and 40 seats. Kismet held its grand opening at the end of September, and for many, the new space is a glimmer of hope in a humorless time.
Before the pandemic, Rhode Island boasted a feisty improv scene, including the venue Wage House and the Providence Improv Guild (P.I.G.). Meanwhile, the Providence Improv Festival was held for 16 straight years and hosted teams from across the country. But when performance spaces shut down around the world, all this comedy went quiet. Even Wage House, which had offered a popular training program for novices, was forced to shutter.
The Bruneauxs wanted to fill that void, and their journey was blessed with, well, kismet. First, Cotter Bruneaux recently finished an MBA from Providence College in Business Administration, and she wanted to make Kismet financially viable. “We want to be a fun theater,” she says, “but we’ve got to make it a successful business.”
Next, the Bruneauxs stumbled upon Hope Artiste Village, the former industrial complex that houses an arcade of small businesses. “We had no idea how business-friendly Pawtucket really is,” Cotter Bruneaux marvels. Not only did they land a quality space, but they benefited from a liquor license that covers the whole building. Normally, such licenses come for a hefty price and may require long wait times, but Kismet was able to sell libations at its very first show.
They also teamed up with local comic Ayla Ahlquist, who serves as Kismet’s director of operations, and a roster of seasoned improvisers, who lead comedy classes.
Today, Kismet hosts regular in-person shows while still observing COVID guidelines. Interested rookies can sign up for a course in Improv Fundamentals, and more seasoned comics can take intermediate classes. The Bruneauxs believe strongly in the personal benefits of improv; Kismet offers a sliding scale for low-income students, and they are striving for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“If someone wants to take an improv class, they shouldn’t need cash in the bank to do it,” says Cotter Bruneaux. “We’ve had a lot of people come out and take the workshops. People are really excited.”
Cotter Bruneaux notes the steep admission fee, usually around $20 for an evening show. While many improv companies sell much cheaper tickets, Cotter Bruneaux hopes to earn this price through quality performance.
“Everyone is rebuilding,” says Cotter Bruneaux. “But whatever comes next, we want to be influential in it.”
Visit KismetImprov.com for upcoming shows, including An Improvised Christmas Carol on December 11 and 18. 1005 Main Street, Pawtucket.
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