Review Fix chats with the Improvisation Repertory Theatre’s Nannette Deasy and Robert Baumgardner to find out what their goals for 2019 are
About the IRT:
Burns & Allen, Stiller & Meara, Lucy & Ricky, … Deasy & Baumgardner! For nearly a decade, the good ship Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble has been helmed by Nannette Deasy and Robert Baumgardner. These two comedy captains have sailed their troupe into being one of the leading improvisational companies in New York and rapidly conquering ports around the country. IRTE is a group of wildly-trained artists who come together to create spontaneous and uproarious improv-comedy shows. IRTE writes, develops, produces, and performs a season of original themed improvisational shows, following the basic model of traditional repertory theatre. They are now added touring the country with their clever on-the-spot antics. When in NYC, they make The Producers Club, 358 West 44th Street, NYC, their home. There, the highly-skilled fighting force of fun-makers present a season celebrating the best of pop culture. When not bounding around the stage Robert Baumgardner can be found in the directors chair guiding the giggles and opening the doors to let interesting plot twists shine through. he will be directed three of the rep’s four-events this season.
Review Fix: What are your inspirations for creating various shows?
Nannette: A lot of my ideas for shows come from memories of growing up in NJ, whether it’s cartoons, a book by Ray Bradbury, or the Bennigans at the local mall. – When I was about 15, I thought the ultimate freedom was going to the AMC multiplex with my friends and hanging out at Bennigans afterwards. (Cool, huh?) I’ve set Tammy’s Bachelorette at the Bennigans at the Headquarters Plaza in Morristown, NJ. Forget Vegas. It’s everyone’s dream Bachelorette destination, amiright?
Robert: I have to say it has to be TV shows and movies. This year’s The Ship Be Sinkin’ is inspired by disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure, and Titanic. Big Rich & Powerful was another one of my shows that drew from prime time TV dramas like Dynasty and Dallas TV shows. I even think of the IRTE shows as TV episodes because we will play the same characters from performance to performance, but we’ll be going through a different story line from performance to performance.
Review Fix: What’s the creative process like? What happens at “rehearsal”?
Nannette: The creator of the show (always one of our Ensemble members – this season I’m responsible for Tammy’s Bachelorette and Go to Sleep, Stupid Kids!) assembles a rough structural outline of the show. Without setting plot, it includes the setting, themes ideas for characters (some absolutely necessary, some suggested) and how and when people move in and out of scenes. Also included is a way to incorporate a musical guest. (Let’s just say the stripper hired for Tammy’s Bachelorette will be multi-talented). At our first rehearsal we put it all on its feet, trying out various characters and tweaking the form for what actually works in practice. From there, the Director refines the form and structure and pulls together the characters that emerge. Then, we continue to workshop it.
Robert: For IRTE shows, the process is like being shot out of a cannon. There’s a lot of flailing around at first, but in the end, you hit the target. Rehearsal is a lot of exploration of characters and relationships, and as a director, I try to help define the “sandbox” the players can play in, sometimes try to encourage them to get out of the sandbox to find something brand new.
Review Fix: What makes IRTE different or special from other troupes?
Nannette: We’re taking the best aspects of indie theatre (costumes, props, narrative) and comedy improv (the fun, the unexpected, the freedom) and melding them together to create something that I’d like to think is a bit unique and very silly in the best possible way.
Robert: I think we’re one of the few New York based improv troupes attempting to create a story or narrative in a show.Most long-form groups perform theme-based improvs. There are a couple that will perform in the style of certain playwrights, and they are very good. Also, there is a musical based improv group that tell a good story. I think we also cast a pretty diverse group of people compared to other improv groups.
Review Fix: Eight years! What have you learned … about yourself, the industry, each other?
Nannette: That there’s a broader audience for the type of theatre we’re performing. There seems to be a common perception in New York that improvisation-based theatre is a sort of “niche” form of entertainment, seen mostly in improv comedy schools and the backs of bars. We’ve found that if you put the work in, there’s a wider Off-Broadway and Fringe theatre audience that want to come and see it.
Robert: I can’t believe how much I’ve created over the eight years. Not only as a performer and director, but I’ve designed posters and postcards, as well as written a couple of songs for shows.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goal?
Nannette: I’d like IRTE to develop into a professional year-round theatre and spread our own brand of entertainment through touring and film work like a delicious soft cheese.
Robert: To find contentment and happiness.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Nannette: We have IRTE’s season opener, Tammy’s Bachelorette, which is going to be, literally, a party for the performers and the audience.
Robert: Well, I have a busy season up ahead. I’m directing three of the four IRTE shows of the season (Tammy’s Bachelorette, The Ship Be Sinkin’, and Go to Sleep, Stupid Kids!), and I’ll be performing in IRTE’s Evil Clowns Have Feelings, Too. I’m also performing and helping to workshop a couple of new plays at the Actors Studio Playwright Directors Workshop.