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Big Dog Celebrates a Year in Coventry

The comedy venue has booked seven performances for its anniversary show this Saturday night

Since , a few moments stick out in owner Don Mitri’s mind.

Such as when the air conditioning broke down during a particularly hot day in May, and no one would come out and fix it on a Saturday. He had booked sketch comedy group Last Call Cleveland for that night, and it was more than 90 degrees in the 93-year-old theater, which sits on the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Coventry Road.

“It was one of the best and worst days of the theater,” Mitri said.

Mitri offered to cancel the show, but Last Call Cleveland insisted on performing that night. “No, let’s do it. We’re excited to do it,” they had said.

But then the audience walked in.

“You looked at people and they were red because they were so hot,” Mitri said, adding that he was worried someone would faint and fall. “But nobody left and nobody complained … Cleveland patrons to the theater are just amazing. Not one complaint, not one gripe.”

Mitri calls the comedy venue a “labor of love.” His day starts at 5 a.m., and he takes care of everything from collecting tickets to mopping floors to promoting the theater to booking shows to painting the walls and the stage.

But Mitri said that doing everything himself with help from his wife, Jennifer, is not his biggest challenge.  

“I think the biggest hurdle that we had the whole year was just getting people reacquainted with the theater. For so long the place was dark and no one even knew about it,” he said. “But Coventry is really starting to turn back to that arts district with Big Dog Theater and and and the school of acting.”

He and Jennifer had high hopes after packing the 260-seat space the opening night. The crowds haven’t been as big since. But as Mitri said a year ago, “(Success) is not going to happen overnight.” 

Mitri hopes for a big turnout this Saturday, when the theater will host an anniversary celebration, “Year of the Dog!”

There will be seven performances staring at 9 p.m. Standup comedians and Steve Guy, Last Call Cleveland and Big Dog improv groups Thunderlips and the Submissives and Good Dinner Party are on the list. The pre-show party starts at 7:30 p.m. in the theater lobby across from hookah bar. Light appetizers will be provided. Tickets are $10 reserved online and $12 at the door (cash only).

In addition to weekend shows, Mitri offers a variety of sketch and improv comedy classes. Paul Seaburn, a Cleveland native who’s written for "The Tonight Show," will offer a sketch-writing class as part of a series. And the theater also serves as a venue for local church on Sunday.

“We’re getting amazing performers from Chicago coming back and doing shows like Dummy and Baby Makers, just really, unbelievable performers of improv, and amazing teachers. We’re just really lucky that we have so much interest.”

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