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Study improv and other dramatic skills at the new Moonlight Stage Company 

Class is in session at the Moonlight Stage Company

Photo courtesy of Estes Tarver

Class is in session at the Moonlight Stage Company

On Sept. 8, a 43-seat theater in North Raleigh will become the official home of the new Moonlight Stage Company. The small, newly renovated black box space will be a hub for classes and shows, for performers and teachers—and, if all goes according to plan, for audiences that may have never given live theater a shot.

The Company's programming goals are big. The calendar is stacked with classes for acting, songwriting, stand-up and improv comedy. The proposed show schedule features one-act plays, open mikes, songwriters circles and comedy showcases.

"We're not going to put on three-hour plays from 40 years ago," says founder Estes Tarver. "I really want to pump new work and new artists. People can expect to see hip new stuff that's original and fresh."

An actor and acting coach, Tarver has run his Estes Tarver Acting Studio in Raleigh for years. Last January, a chance introduction by a student's mother led him to Jeris Donovan, a veteran of iO West, Second City and The Annoyance, who'd been in a sort of retirement from the form. The two schemed up an improv curriculum and soon sparked conversations about relaunching the studio as Moonlight Stage Company.

Tarver's years networking in the industry, locally and nationally, have led to an impressive crew of contributing faculty and performing company. Mark Cornell, a 2014 Eugene O'Neill Conference Semi-Finalist, teaches playwriting. Funny man Matt White, North Carolina's Funniest Comic 2013, coaches standup. Lauded songstress Carrie Marshall leads songwriting workshops.

What makes Moonlight's comedy curriculum stand out, says Donovan, is a multi-disciplinary approach that allows them to connect acting and improv skills. "We're really, truly grounded in the truth in comedy, finding what's funny within you," she says.

That commitment to vulnerability is complemented by a nurturing environment, according to Donovan. "What's great about Moonlight is you can start earlier here and cultivate your art," she says. "You can take the classes. You can act on camera, you can figure out if you're a comic writer, you can figure out if you're a songwriter, you can perform right away and figure out if that's your thing or not and then grow with it as a high-schooler or as an adult."

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IMPROV: FOUR TO SEE

TRANSACTORS IMPROV COMPANY: RAY'S DINER (Common Ground Theatre, Sept. 20)—Transactors presents a longform, spontaneous theater piece about the drifters, truck drivers and regulars that stop into an old Southern diner.

THE IMPROV PERCOLATOR (Common Ground Theatre, Sept. 25)—This new bi-monthly series mixes old and new improv teams for a friendly showcase. This night features Fatmouth Improv, Tree Hugger Guild, Diversity Training and All Play!

24LIVE COMEDY MARATHON (DSI Comedy Theater, Oct. 45)—One cast of performers (with a little help from featured acts) performs 24 straight hours of comedy to benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

COMEDYWORX: FUNNY GIRLS (ComedyWorx, Oct. 25)—This late night show puts a cast of ladies at the helm for a raucous set of improv.—Ashley Melzer

STAND-UP COMEDY: 10 TO SEE

Hello, comedy nerds! There are a lot of heavy-hitters coming to the Triangle this fall, along with some cult comics who deserve your attention. Here are my top picks for funny people coming to town in the next few months. —Craig D. Lindsey

GREG PROOPS (Goodnights Comedy Club, Sept. 18–20)—The very smart (and very smart-ass) comic will take a break from doing improv on that CW reboot of Whose Line is it Anyway?, returning to Goodnights for some stand-up and another taping of his podcast.

APARNA NANCHERLA (Motorco Music Hall, Sept. 21)—Last year, this comedienne (who has performed at the NC Comedy Arts Festival) did a show at DSI Comedy Theater with some of her fellow former Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell writers. Now she's headlining her own.

NICK SWARDSON (Durham Performing Arts Center, Sept. 28)—The longtime Adam Sandler crony takes time out from playing the weird, creepy guy in all his movies (remember when he starred as the incompetent porn star in the Sandler-produced Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star?) to do some stand-up in Durham.

MARY LYNN RAJSKUB (Goodnights Comedy Club, Oct. 2–4)—Now that she's done running around with Kiefer Sutherland, dodging bullets and explosions as everyone's favorite computer geek, Chloe, on 24: Live Another Day, this regularly kooky comic can get back to what she does best: regularly kooky stand-up.

LAST COMIC STANDING (Carolina Theatre, Oct. 13)—Hey, you watch Last Comic Standing? Really? Well, the top five finalists this season—Nikki Carr, Rocky LaPorte, Joe Machi, Lachlan Patterson and Rod Man—are now on tour and are scheduled to make a stop here.

BILL COSBY (Durham Performing Arts Center, Oct. 25)—Anyone who saw his Comedy Central special last year knows that even in his late 70s, Dr. Cosby can still bring down the house—all while staying seated. With a Netflix special coming up in November, he's once again out there slaying audiences with his sit-down comedy.

BROAD CITY LIVE (Cat's Cradle, Nov. 7)—They were supposed to come to Carrboro earlier this year. Thankfully, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have rescheduled, ready to do the girls-behaving-badly shtick that has made their new Comedy Central show a cult hit.

CHRISTOPHER TITUS (Carolina Theatre, Nov. 7)—The former sitcom star turned History Channel host is on the road with another one-man show, Angry Pursuit of Happiness, which basically has him spazzing out over life, love and whatever else makes him lose his shit on stage.

JOAN RIVERS (Durham Performing Arts Center, Nov. 8)—Is there a more zero-fucks-giving comic out there than Rivers? (Remember the heat she got this summer when she said she didn't feel bad for civilians killed in Gaza?) The older she gets, the less she cares about offending people, which is probably what she'll do in abundance at DPAC.

KATHLEEN MADIGAN (Carolina Theatre, Nov. 22)—If there were an all-female Blue Collar Comedy Tour, this veteran funny lady would definitely be the headliner. Until that day comes, you can see her all by herself at the Carolina, bringing the working-class laughs.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Comedy curriculum"

Disclosure: Ashley Melzer is the Associate Artistic Director at DSI Comedy.

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