Comedy is Hard unless you’re Nannette… then it’s Deasy!

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.

Nannette Deasy is founder and artistic director of this hilarious and quite-brilliant company. She might as well be a whole compoany herself: a brain filled with clever ideas and theatrical knowledge; the countenance of a TV sitcom injenue (imagine a salad of Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, and Lucille Ball), and the acumen of a Wall Street tycoon; all wanting to share these gifts with all of us.

Well, let’s let her tell you. Here is part 1 of her interview and part III of IRTE: The Return.

The Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey (yes, a take-off of the Amazon hit show)
FRIDAYS & SATURDAYSOctober 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

  • Tell us about IRTE

I founded IRTE, or the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, back in 2011. We’re an indie, experimental collective of actors founded in 2011 melding what we think are the best aspects of contemporary, traditional scripted theatre with the spontaneity and fun of improvisational comedy. Our shows often have a premise, or skeletal framework which we then flesh out with improvisational work. We’ll typically develop and devise a loose narrative structure to our shows, with characters we create collectively and collaboratively through rehearsals and an agreed-upon world. However, the stories and dialogue are improvised and “in the moment.” We’re very inspired by the work of Viola Spolin, the Theatre of the Ridiculous movement and the indie comedy scene of turn-of-this-century’s NYC. We feature simple costumes, dime store props, and broad irreverent characters for fluid, funny shows that we hope break down barriers between actor and spectator.

It’s bad enough that theater couldn’t happen, what do you do when audience feedback is more than essential for your show? What did you do during the pandemic?
Frankly, we pretty much shut down. However, we always knew we’d be back. We kept up our own training where and when we could – taking part in performance workshops over zoom. We released the recordings of our last show before all theaters closed (Diner on the Edge) online. Normally, we don’t share recordings publicly – they’re recorded strictly for archival purposes. (I personally feel that a live improvisational-based show loses a LOT when the experience is no longer in-person). This was to give audience members a chance (especially cast members’ families) to see shows they would have otherwise missed. We were extremely fortunate that Jan Ewing agreed to review one of these recordings and included it in his Ewing Reviewing 2020 edition. I feel like we got to be a small part of theatre history. We also took time prepping for the future, mapping out the upcoming season, fundraising and applying for grants.

  • Do you plan on working the pandemic into your future productions?

It hasn’t been pre-planned into any of the basic structures of our shows, but it will probably inform our performances somewhat. After all, with work that is improvisational in nature, actors draw a lot from what is happening around them in their own lives in the moment. Our shows are devised from the collective experiences of a diverse cast who all went through a pretty extraordinary year and a half. The audience is also given a say in story. It would not be unexpected for our feelings and thinking about the pandemic to work their way into the season. On a lighter note, I would imagine my character in Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey, Pound Foolish the Party Clown may have spent the bulk of lock down hiding in the McCluskey’s crawl space. That would make sense to me.

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

The premises of our shows, at their most basic levels, were pitched to the leadership members of the company during previous seasons. The group then voted on which shows appealed to them the most. For this season, Robert Baumgardner (the Executive Director) and I picked one show from the previous season that we never got a chance to develop because of the pandemic (The Marvelous Mrs. McCluskey) and one show that we wanted to bring back and do more with (Tammy’s Bachelorette). Prior to rehearsals, cast and crew meet for a collaborative brainstorm session to expand and develop existing show ideas. Everyone (cast, crew, company) is invited and has an equal voice. Ideas discussed are ultimately refined and structured by the Director (Robert for Marvelous Mrs. M). The show is then further developed through an improvisational rehearsal process. Actors are given a loose idea of types needed for the show and then develop (with the director’s guidance) their own characters.

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