The Unified Scene Theater is DC’s newest space fully dedicated to improv and sketch comedy, and a range of other performing arts – comedic monologues, storytelling, and spoken word, to name a few. Since opening its doors in Bloomingdale this August, Unified has offered the local improv community the opportunity to perform most anything – no matter how controversial or edgy.
Husband-and-wife team Shawn and Kathy Baird Westfall decided to open Unified to give performers a creative outlet outside of traditional theater spaces.
“Sure, there are annual festivals here in town and elsewhere that do this, basically invite a theatrically non-traditional production or avant-garde-esque performers and performances to their venues for a few weeks out of the year,” Shawn says. “Our attitude is that this kind of thing should be happening year round.”
Shawn first met Kathy when she took one of his classes at DC Improv, where he taught beginning to advanced-level performers for more than a decade. A year and another improv class later, the two began their life together – and their shared dream of opening a collaborative improv space in the city.
The couple was inspired by DC’s early punk bands and icons who created spaces for music and self-expression, particularly Kathy, who spent her teens as part of the local punk and hardcore scene in 1980s DC, rocking out at legendary local venues like the original 9:30 Club and WUST Radio Music Hall.
The Westfalls thought the focus of independent record label Dischord Records –founded in 1980 for DC’s punk music – was translatable to what they wanted to do: “Give a home to independent improv troupes, a stage to perform on, an audience to watch and money for their talent.”
“We feel the simple, DIY, uncomplicated nature of our theater, and our bold red-and-black logo, reflects that aesthetic: a punk rock club masquerading as an improv comedy – among other things – theater,” Kathy says.
Unified’s simple, edgy, punk vibe and intimate space has attracted not only the local improv community but also the couple’s neighbors in Bloomingdale. The Westfalls, who live just a block-and-a-half from their theater, say the feedback from the neighborhood has been over-the-top positive.
“I for one am gratified by the response I’ve received from those who’ve performed in it,” Shawn says. The Unified co-founder attributes this in part to the space itself, a complete 180 from the cavernous, high-ceilinged setup of other local theaters.
“There simply is no substitute for the visceral experience of being right there with the performers as they make discoveries in the moment, where you get the feeling that absolutely anything can happen.”
Look for a jam-packed calendar of full weekend improv, sketch, and other shows – and even a few exhibits featuring the works of local visual artists in January.
The Unified Scene Theater: 80 T St. NW, DC; www.unifiedscenetheater.com