Arts and Culture

Grafenberg Productions Opens New Improv Venue in Denver

Justin Franzen holds the keys to Grafenberg Productions' new performance space.
Grafenberg Productions
click to enlarge Justin Franzen holds the keys to Grafenberg Productions' new performance space. - GRAFENBERG PRODUCTIONS
Justin Franzen holds the keys to Grafenberg Productions' new performance space.
Grafenberg Productions
After years of dividing their time between two locations, the puckish players of Grafenberg Productions discovered that in order to create their ideal home, they'd have to construct it themselves...with a little help.

The hitherto wandering troupe, founded by iO Chicago-trained instructor Justin Franzen, had hosted sketch and improv shows all over town at places like the Comedy RoomRoom, Atlas Theater, Backstage at Beryl's and Deer Pile, yet had not found a spot capable of both facilitating a regular performance schedule and providing classroom space for the students in Grafenberg's Playschool instruction program.

click to enlarge GRAFENBERG PRODUCTIONS
Grafenberg Productions
So when the troupe bid farewell to Deer Pile following the recent sale of the City, O' City property, Franzen decided it was time to seek partners and develop a room of Grafenberg's own.

Luckily for the Grafenbergers, just as a six-year relationship with one venue came to a close, another was beginning to blossom. While standup was the original purview of El Charrito's Comedy RoomRoom and producer Timmi Lasley had invited Franzen to bring his company to the stage, the collaboration was stymied by scheduling conflicts.


But then came a much bigger opportunity, from the building at the corner of Larimer and 21st streets.

click to enlarge Grafenberg players on stage at El Charrito's Comedy RoomRoom. - GRAFENBERG PRODUCTIONS
Grafenberg players on stage at El Charrito's Comedy RoomRoom.
Grafenberg Productions
"Timmi did everything she could to give us more space at Comedy RoomRoom," Franzen says, "and later on, Matt [Orrin, proprietor of El Charrito] offered us the space at the end of his building to help us provide a fair and equitable space for improvisors and sketch comics to push themselves."

Orrin had already experienced success turning unused real estate into a space where enterprising creatives would thrive when he and Lasley (plus a number of employees and volunteers) converted El Charrito's mostly empty dining room into a DIY comedy club with a busy performance calendar. So it seemed natural to extend a similar offer to Franzen and crew for more unused space, behind the old dive bar and in the basement. However, reaching an agreement was just the beginning.

"The space needs a lot of work," Franzen admits. "Everything structural was done, which was great. The hardest part was probably cleaning the basement out for our classrooms. The basement had tons of weird stuff in it from the previous owners. The strangest things were the huge plastic tubes partially filled with cigarettes, two full five-gallon buckets of cigarette butts, two trash bags of cigarette butts, and a baby swing."

click to enlarge GRAFENBERG PRODUCTIONS
Grafenberg Productions
While the renovations remain a work in progress, Franzen, Grafenberg Productions managing director Katie Matthews and co-owners Sue and Randy Gibbons already have grand plans for the place.

"Our main goal is to focus on more sketch comedy and written one-act plays and help really foster a sketch community while at the same time helping raise the bar for Denver improv. And Timmi, Matt and I plan to work together and collaborate as much as possible." Franzen continues, "For example, Timmi and I plan to rent a U-Haul and travel around town doing pop-up shows. So keep an eye out for Comedy VroomRoom."

To learn more, and to contribute to Grafenberg's efforts, visit the troupe's Indiegogo page. The fundraising campaign ends soon.
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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham