Alberta Abbey has been an institution in North Portland for nearly a century.
From its home at 126 NE Alberta St., the theater and art collective has easy access to some of the busiest and fastest growing neighborhoods in north and northeast Portland.
But that doesn’t mean the navigation has always been smooth.
In the past, Alberta Abbey has struggled to establish itself among Portland’s many midsize theaters and more recently in the face of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leah Mocsy, interim executive director of the Alberta Abbey Foundation, hopes that as the live show begins the slow return of state and city-imposed closures and capacity restrictions, the Alberta Abbey will become a place for everything. do, ready to meet the needs of Portland’s diverse and vibrant arts community.
In the process, Alberta Abbey organizes a “reintroduction” of the theater with three weekends of comedy. Mia Jackson of Atlanta, who recorded a half-hour special for Comedy Central in 2019, kicks off Nov. 19-20, followed by Tacoma’s Nate Jackson Nov. 26-27 and finishes from December 3 to 4 with Dean Edwards, a “Saturday Night Live Actor from 2001 to 2003.
But Mocsy’s vision for the reimagined Abbey of Alberta goes beyond three weekends of comedy.
“I imagine all these different artists interacting together. The cafe is open during the day and evening, and it’s full of people talking about new art projects. This space is for the community, ”Mocsy said.
She sees this new life for Alberta Abbey as an extension of the building’s long history.
Alberta Abbey began as the Christian Church on Mallory Avenue, hosting services in what is now the building’s basement in 1925. It’s been a lot since: a YWCA in the 1970s , and more recently a place for extracurricular activities managed by Portland Parks and Recreation.
The building is a piece of living history, a maze of rooms and hallways with relics from many past lives such as old wooden lockers in the basement and a handwritten note dated 1984 behind the stage in the performance hall main alerting anyone curious about the location of the church organ.
Mocsy and his team redone the floors and installed a new ventilation system. They’ve also updated the cafe and bar, offering beer, wine, signature cocktails, and an assortment of local sausages for Carlton Farms and Cascade Farms.
She plans to convert existing offices into performance spaces, use the basement ballroom as a hip-hop room, and add a recording studio.
It’s still a work in progress, largely because it has been almost completely closed since March 2020.
“We just want to do community stuff,” Mocsy said. “But now we ask ourselves: how do we pay the bills? “
This is where comedy shows come in.
Nate Jackson is happy to help. Having recently opened his own comedy club, Nate Jackson’s aptly named Super Funny Comedy Club in Tacoma, he knows what it takes to run a new venue.
“I want to support the new site. I want them to be successful and if they want to put on comedy shows, they need great talent, ”Jackson said.
The hope is that this series of shows will signal that Alberta Abbey is open for business.
“Space has always been available in the community, but we haven’t really had a lot of action,” said Adam Vara, who is the director of operations for Alberta Abbey.
Vara is a seasoned show producer on the Portland comedy scene. He was instrumental in connecting Alberta Abbey with local performance groups such as Kickstand Comedy.
“Kickstand Comedy was looking for community partners to help us continue to bring live comedy to Portland during the pandemic,” said Dylan Reiff, who is the artistic director of Kickstand Comedy.
Kickstand has been homeless since its downtown space was closed, first for security reasons in 2020, and then definitively in September.
Over the summer, Kickstand hosted several outdoor shows in Laurelhurst Park.
As a soft launch in early September, Kickstand presented The Bitchuation Room podcast with Francesca Fiorentini at Alberta Abbey.
“The Abbey is a unique and magnificent space. I think like so many arts organizations and multi-purpose spaces right now, it’s carving out its next chapter after 40s, ”Reiff said.
Kickstand is not the only local performance group operating in partnership with Alberta Abbey. Portland’s Third Rail Repertory Theater has been using Alberta Abbey as its administrative office and ticket office since 2019.
“It feels good to share space in a building that houses organizations that work to improve the quality of life of community members from various perspectives, from education to visual arts to performance opportunities, ”said Cynthia Shur Petts, Director of Third Rail Development and Communications.
Shur Petts hopes to take advantage of the Abbey’s redesigned and redeveloped spaces for rehearsals and eventually use its main theater to stage performances.
A grand reopening would go a long way to supporting these efforts.
“I’m going to blow people’s socks off, and the people who didn’t come, who dropped the ball, are going to be like, damn moly, we missed that,” said Nate Jackson. “People have to get on with it, you know, get out.”
If you are going to
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St., hosts three comedy weekends.
Mia Jackson, 7 and 9:30 p.m., November 19 and 20, $ 20- $ 25, albertaabbey.org/eventcalendar/mia-jackson
Nate Jackson, 7 and 9:30 p.m., November 26-27, $ 20- $ 25, albertaabbey.org/eventcalendar/nate-jackson
Dean Edwards, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., December 3-4, $ 20- $ 25, albertaabbey.org/eventcalendar/dean-edwards
– Mike Acker, for The Oregonian / OregonLive