Home » Uncategorized » INSIDE IRTE: The Return of Improv’s Innovator

INSIDE IRTE: The Return of Improv’s Innovator

Edited by Natasha Dawsen

Theatre closing for more than 18 months was a devastation to NYC and to the industry itself. Many artists and organizations rallied and produced zoom readings and showings; symposium online; and even resurrected old recordings of plays and showings. But what if your ENTIRE business required the audience to be right there in your laps – like Improvisation?

The art of improv was slowly fading prior to the pandemic with several companies leaving NYC or leaving completely. One stayed strong and became one of the leaders of that industry. The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble.

IRTE, the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, LLC, is an award-winning collective of comedy actors and writers who develop, produce and perform a season of original themed improvisational shows, following the basic model of traditional repertory theatre. What made them distinctive is that they are a theatre company wrapped in an improv troupe – of visa versa. Inspired by the Theatre of the Ridiculous movement, the work of Viola Spolin, and the indie comedy scene of turn-of-this-century’s NYC, they create – before your eyes – full plays. Incorporating simple costumes, dollar store props, and broad (irreverent) characters, IRTE manages to take audience suggestions and their own clever memories (usually of pop-culture) and create a new play – every night.

Staying a float with workshops and videos of past shows, IRTE held on tight for a year and a half and now – ready with a favorite of audiences – returns to NYC’s Producer’s Club for a longer run of a longer production.

The Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey (yes, a take-off of the Amazon hit show)
FRIDAYS & SATURDAYS: October 22, 23, 29 & 30 ; November 5, 6, 12 & 13, 2021
8:00pm – 9:30pm
Tickets $20 Online / $25 Cash Only at the Door

The Producers Club
358 West 44th Street, NYC

We begin a four-part series, interviewing the power-players of the company and what it feels like to return to being “live from New York.”

Robert Baumgardner is one of the founders and one of the lead-directors and writers of the company.

Tell us about IRTE

IRTE stands for the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, and it was founded by Nannette Deasy ten years ago. Over the years we’ve developed a style of improvisational theatre where the players develop a story right before your eyes with characters they’ve developed in rehearsals, and suggestions from the audience, too.

Your company is a hybrid of theatrical technique and long form improv. How do you create material?

For me personally, I start with a very small idea. It’s often a phrase that sounds like a show title just popping into my head. Then I ask myself what is that show about. From there, I start building an initial structure which guides players in a very general way in building a story. As rehearsals progress, and even sometimes during the run, the structure, and certain other items, like character backstory solidifies, but not to the extent where we have a scripted play. Often, I see our shows as TV episodes where we have the same characters from night to night, but something different happens to them each time. So, it goes from one person’s idea to a collaboration with a bunch of improvisers and sometimes designers. Everybody’s individual experiences lend a uniqueness to each performance. We’ve had the opportunity to remount shows at festivals, sometimes with different cast members, and something new and different is always developed.

You are very visible across the country. How’s it look outside of NYC? 

For this year, we’re not planning any performances outside of NYC. As much as we love going to festivals, there’s more research to do, and more responsibility to bear, when considering a location to perform in. Of course, I’m talking about the whole Covid thing. Some areas of the country just aren’t taking it seriously enough, and major outbreaks are still occurring in many states. I don’t think it’s that wise to ask an entire cast and crew to put themselves at undue risk. Next year, I hope, the world will start looking like a different place, and we can start performing in other places. I’ve loved being a part of many of the Fringe Festivals around the country.

Will you still be doing audience participation? Have you augmented that? 

Audience participation will always be an important part of our work. It may come in different forms. Sometimes audience is up on stage, sometimes we’re just asking them for suggestions in the middle of the show. Sometimes, we just ask them to write suggestions down before the show, and we grab the suggestions out of a bowl during the performance. Covid isn’t going to stop any of that. We may ask people to wear masks. We are definitely telling people they have to be fully vaccinated before they enter the theater.

Audience participation and connection is important for us, and I think it always will be.

PART II will appear NEXT WEEK in https://outerstage.wordpress.com/

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