Center Stage working with Laughing Skull for socially distanced comedy shows Sept. 18-19

Lavar Walker is headlining a group of comics for  two-hour shows at Center Stage Sept. 18-19. CR; publicity photo
Lavar Walker is headlining a group of comics for two-hour shows at Center Stage Sept. 18-19. CR; publicity photo

Credit: Publicity photo

Credit: Publicity photo

It’s an experiment to create safe indoor entertainment options.

Most music venues in town have largely remained closed six months into the pandemic.

Midtown venue Center Stage has been seeking ways to open its doors in a viable way, and Rival Entertainment concert promoter Josh Antenucci thought comedy was a “logical progression into hosting small audiences again." He decided to approach Laughing Skull Lounge owner Marshall Chiles because of Chile’s reputation for supporting local comedy and building a successful comedy club in an intimate space that holds just 80 people.

Laughing Skull has remained closed since March because it’s simply too small to work as a venue under current conditions. Under normal circumstances, Chiles holds 10 shows there a week, every day, selling at least 90 percent of tickets. Right before the pandemic, actor and stand-up comic Kevin Hart was holding near-daily practice rounds there to prep for a future Netflix special.

Fortunately, Center Stage, which normally fits 1,050 people, has high ceilings and an air circulation system that would go up in the air, not across the room.

An early set up of Center Stage for the comedy show with floor seats sold four at a time per table. CR: Marshall Chiles
An early set up of Center Stage for the comedy show with floor seats sold four at a time per table. CR: Marshall Chiles

Credit: Marshall Chiles

Credit: Marshall Chiles

So Chiles and Antenucci figured out they could fit about 200 mask-wearing people comfortably, socially distanced, at Center Stage. Masks will be required, except while drinking, and drinks themselves will be delivered to people’s chairs.

Chiles designed a “Best of Atlanta Comedy Showcase” show featuring 10 to 12 mostly local comics, led by Atlanta headliner Lavar Walker. Each comic will have about seven minutes while Walker will do 15 to 20 minutes.

“I am a little rusty,” said Walker, who did a small outdoor show last Friday but otherwise has not performed since March. But he’s excited to just do a live show.

“We have to go to get back in there,” Walker said. “We have to start swinging. I don’t know how many more Instagram videos I can do. I need to be on stage, man. I like being on stage, working out stuff, talking to the people."

They have scheduled two test shows this weekend, one on at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18 and another on Saturday, Sept. 19 and charging $20 to $30 apiece. (Tickets available here).

If there is enough demand, Chiles and Antenucci will schedule more shows since the slate of concerts Center Stage normally books are currently not happening.

“We’re excited to open the doors and fill a few seats in our ‘new norm’ of operating,” Antenucci said. “We’re creating a safe environment for entertainment and relying on our audience to come prepared to follow the rules or be laughed out of the room.”

Chiles had previously experimented with shows at Ponce City Market but bowed out because he felt it wasn’t the best experience for the comics or artists and was too much work for the amount of return he was getting. He hopes this new set up will provide people a chance to laugh in a comfortable setting with no worries about weather issues.

“We are dealing with something so unprecedented,” Chiles said. “We’re just trying different things.”

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