Chapel Hill News

DSI Comedy moving to Franklin Street

Zach Ward, executive producer and artistic director at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro, poses in front of a picture of Del Close, recognized as the guru of long-form improvisation.
Zach Ward, executive producer and artistic director at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro, poses in front of a picture of Del Close, recognized as the guru of long-form improvisation. TED RICHARDSON - trichard@newsob

Comedy in Carrboro is moving down the road.

DSI Comedy Theater, which has made its home in the back of Carr Mill Mall for the past eight years, will move to a new location in Chapel Hill this spring,

The new location at 462 W. Franklin St., next to the Carolina Brewery, will provide more than four times the amount of space, including a main performance venue on the ground floor and classrooms in the basement.

DSI Comedy hosts stand-up, improv and sketch comedy performances throughout the year, as well as workshops, classes and summer camps. The comedy company also organizes the annual N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, which just wrapped its 14th year in February.

The move follows Carr Mill Mall’s telling the comedy club in January that its lease would not be renewed, said DSI founder and owner Zach Ward.

“It was a surprise,” Ward said. “Our lease was up March 31, so it was about nine weeks’ notice, and we were just about to start the festival, which is our biggest event of the year.”

DSI focused on the festival through most of February, then Ward announced to employees and performers the company would be looking for a new home.

The lease was extended to May 15, but even with the extra time, Ward expected to shut down at least some operations until a temporary home was found for classes and performances.

He and DSI company members immediately began scouting locations in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

“I even took two days to just walk around looking at For Lease signs,” Ward said. “Durham wasn’t off the table, either, because I’d rather be open and putting on shows that closed down and waiting.”

An abrupt turn

The hunt for a new space took an abrupt turn last week, when the building at 462 W. Franklin suddenly came back on the market. Within 48 hours of meeting with the owner, Ward signed a 10-year lease.

“It’s beautiful, and it’s been renovated within the last two years,” Ward said. “If we wanted, we could do shows within two weeks.”

The overall space is significantly larger, too, Ward said – 7,200 square feet including the basement area and upstairs offices. The Carrboro location is about 1,500 square feet.

If all goes well, DSI will gradually move its facilities over the next few weeks, then officially reopen in April or May.

“Unfortunately, this has forced our hand to move from Carrboro, but we’re glad to be on the west end of Franklin Street and still be connected to the ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle and that pocket of arts businesses,” Ward said. “It was just a matter of available space.”

Restaurant expanding

As for the old location in Carr Mill Mall, the space will be converted into an expanded lounge and banquet area for Venable Rotisserie Bistro, the popular eatery adjacent to the current DSI Theater. Mall manager Nathan Milian said the new restaurant facilities will include a separate entrance and should be in place by August.

“I’m thrilled that they found a new place,” Milian said of the DSI move. “One of the issues with DSI is that they needed classroom space. We just didn’t have the ability to expand them where they are. They’ve done a terrific job with the comedy club and the festival, and we wish them the best.”

Ward said that, while the abrupt transition has been stressful, he has high hopes that the new space will improve the club’s visibility.

“I don’t mean to be cheesy about it, but we practice improvisation here,” Ward said. “So when we got the word in January that we lost the lease in Carrboro, we thought – ‘Well, it is what it is, let’s see what we can do with it.’”