From left: Jon Emmerich, Aaron Karnes, Pete Jacobsen, Holly McFarland Karnes, Glenn “Kraz” Krasny and Jessica Taylor form NOT QUITE RIGHT IMPROV.
By PAM HARBAUGH
There’s something pretty cool on the New Year’s Eve horizon — an evening long celebration with the Not Quite Right Comedy Players.
And they have a lot to celebrate. For not only have they carved out a growing fan base producing sold-out shows at a sweet spot in the Eau Gallie Arts District, they also recently opened the are’s only live theater, the NQR Theatre, which was carved out of the old Derek Gores Gallery.
Indeed. It’s all theater, all the time. There’s a stage with cabaret style seating. Lights. Sound. Curtains. Pretty soon, new restrooms will be installed. A beer and wine license has been procured.
Show-business is happening.
And Taylor is at a point where she’s just about to break even on her investment. But for sure, she’s dancing as fast as she can.
“It’s, like, it never stops,” Taylor said. “I’m still adjusting to not being able to leave your work. I’m basically on call at all times…It never turns off. I live and breathe it..”
For five years, NQR Comedy had rented space at the Derek Gores Gallery for her troupe’s regular comedy shows and they regularly sold out. Then she added classes and corporate outreach. A year ago, Taylor took the leap into full time theater artist: She quit her job in the marketing department of Florida Tech in order to devote more time to the NQR Comedy. Then, she found out that Gores was moving his gallery somewhere else, and, well, there’s no business like show business (with the accent on the “business”).
“That was kind of the moment of decision,” Taylor said. “We knew that we either rent our own space or be squatters in some coffee shop someplace. We thought it’s now or never, might as well take a leap.”So she signed a lease agreement and started collecting cocktail tables, chairs, projectors and stage platforms. Curtains were added, a sound system was ready, lights were set. Within three days of Gores moving out, the empty gallery had turned into a cabaret style theater.
Then the real work came: Getting permits from the City of Melbourne.
“The City was very helpful in working us through it, but it’s a long process” she said. “So that’s been my main undertaking the last few months — working my way through city code. We also had to hire an architect and engineer because we’re going to be doing renovations in the coming year, adding two bathrooms for the public, and (making) a backstage with a dressing room for us.”
That lengthy process can be maddening for someone who is used to leading a group of improvisational artists to think on their feet and react quickly to other characters and then to immediately adapt to surprising situations.
But she’s maintained her sense of humor about the legal bureaucratic maze: “I had the business in my name, but then to open a building I learn that it has to be under a different code. That means two meetings, and oh, by the way, you have to get your signage approved. And by the way you can’t sell beer and wine until you get all these 14 million signatures on a sheet of paper…It’s a long process.”
Fortunately, Taylor, 41, is a highly organized woman, which she calls “an odd combination especially for an improviser.”
Born in Sarasota, FL, she majored in journalism and minored in theater at the University of Florida where she also got involved with improvisational theater.
She wrote for magazines and continued writing free lance while teaching yearbook and journalism at Edgewood Jr./Sr. High for nine years before joining the marketing department at Florida Tech.
In 2002, she began the NQR Comedy troupe at the Henegar Center. That lasted a couple years and then the players all went their separate ways.
Then, Taylor met Gores, a well-known, successful artist who helps creative folk bring their good ideas to life. He suggested to Taylor that she teach an improv class in his gallery. Eventually, that led to a one of the hottest, sold-out Saturday evening hubs in the Eau Gallie Arts District; and a steadily growing fan base for NQR.
“Without him, we wouldn’t have any of what we have now,” Taylor said. “So I owe a lot of our current success to Derek who has been a great support and incubator for us and other artists. He’s a huge support in the community.”
And Gores, who is known as much for his business acumen as he is his marvelous art, gives the compliment right back.
“I’ve admired her mixed strategy of classes, performances and corporate team building workshops,” he said. “And Jessica’s a natural collaborator. Bringing in different circles of influence, whether it is educators or musicians or local business tie-ins keeps shows fun and brings in new audiences too. Who doesn’t need a good laugh?”
But this new thing – being a business owner with a brick and mortar presence – frequently weighs on Taylor.
Having to pay rent, utilities, maintenance and insurance every month, plus keep tabs on taxes from sales and fees for tickets, stays on the front of her mind. There was also the cost of renovating the space and purchasing equipment for lights and sound.
“By the time you factor in all those things, we basically have to make $4,000 a month to break even,” Taylor said. “Last month, we were only $60 in the hole, which I would say is a really good thing. Granted I can’t pay anybody including myself.”
Soon, it will be the fees for the architect and engineer and next year, the cost of the actual construction. Taylor knows that renovations are always more expensive than you anticipate.
“That hangs heaviest over my head,” she said. “That’s why I try to fill the space as much as I can so it pays for itself.”
So she has begun an array of classes for children, moms, seniors, actors and improv artist wannabes. There’s also a much busier performance schedule and that big bash planned for New Year’s Eve.
Those are good ideas, said Wendy Brandon, who was on the Henegar board of directors for 23 years and ran the organization for five years. She said the classes for children will be a good source of income, especially during the summer.
“If she can break even, she’s in pretty good shape,” Brandon said. “She’s smart to wait until she has a base if income from NQR programming. “
Nevertheless, the business side of art crimps one’s creative style, Taylor admitted.
“It’s highly problematic,” she said. “I’m basically the accountant, the social media manager, the event booker. I am all things. Those always come first and by the time I get around to doing the things I actually want to do – ideas for shows, writing sketches, creative end of things – I’m just too tired. So it kind of gets pushed back.”
She hopes to eventually hire someone to help build the base of corporate clients who reach out to NQR to host creative thinking workshops for their personnel.
“This first year is our experiment,” Taylor said. “So we still have an exit plan. At the end of August, 2019, we can be like ‘Well that was fun.’ But I don’t think any of us actually want to do that. So far we can pay the bills and that’s what we’re going to keep on doing. Things are getting better. Things are moving in a upward direction. I’m feeling more confident than I was at the beginning.”
UPCOMING EVENTS AT NQR COMEDY:
New Year’s Eve Party at NQR Comedy begins 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 and ends at midnight with a champagne toast. The evening includes three shows by different NQR improv teams – My Weird Uncle, Happy Little Accidents and That’s What She Said. Food provided by Coasters Pub & Biergarten. Cash bar will be available. Music by DJE. Tickets are $60 plus sales tax and handling fees. Visit NQRComedy.com or call 321-428-0146.
This is an edited version of a story running in the Melbourne Beachsider.