“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,” explains Nannette Deasy, artistic director of what is rapidly becoming NY’s premier improv troupe.
This mission has allowed IRTE, the Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble, to create plays – including costumes, props, characters, messages, plot twists, and unique and joyous experiences for each audience – and a different one every night.
“Our shows often have a premise, or skeletal framework which we then flesh out with improvisational work,” she concluded. Nannette and her team bring years of theatrical training and experience to the stage and – FLASH!” offer-up a story – often a subtle morality tale with pop-culture spices – creating a fully enjoyubale and often interactive night in the theatre.
Now – after 18 months of staying afloat by presenting video works and workshops online, IRTE is back, facing their usual challenges and a few more.
Touchy subject… We are immersed in cancel culture. Do you need to consider that when creating plots and characters?
Cancel culture or not, it’s always important to consider the story you are trying to tell and what the story you actually end up telling is. Where is the intended laugh coming from? Our shows are not always the most highbrow or sophisticated, but I’d like to think we do maintain a certain level of taste. I think it’s also important to address why you have chosen to include a particular character in a show – why you really think that character or situation is funny, and are you okay with where the laugh is coming from.
Will you still be doing audience participation? Have you augmented that?
Audience participation is a huge part of our shows and won’t be going anywhere. The audience is just as much a character as the rest of the cast. We like to always have an immersive element to our shows. For Tammy’s Bachelorette, for example, the audience will enter the Producers Club to find Tammy’s party already in full swing, the theater having been transformed into a Bennigan’s Restaurant in NJ. Audience is greeted as Tammy’s “best friends” and mingle with the bridal party. The show uses typical bachelorette-party games to draw audience into Tammy’s world. Action switches back & forth between the very “public” audience interactive party games, and the very “private” relationship scenes. Shared experience is a huge part of any IRTE show.
You are very visible across the country. How’s it look outside of NYC?
It’s hard to say just yet. NYC is really ahead of other cities in bringing back entertainment, nightlife and dining in a safe way. I hope that other cities will follow NY’s example of requiring proof of vaccination to attend indoor events. We’ll see.
You presented video versions of your stage work during the pandemic. Were they well-received and how did it translate?
Video is never the same as live performance, but when faced with no alternatives, it was wonderful to have the videos ready to go. As I said earlier, in March of 2020, we had just opened our first show of the Season, Diner on the Edge, and were in pre-production for the second, The Lonely Death of L. Harris, when the order came to shut down all theaters in NYC. Two performances of Diner on the Edge were filmed strictly for archival purposes and as work samples when submitting to festivals. Shot with an iphone left in the corner of the theater, with minimal attention paid to sound and lighting, they weren’t exactly the slickest representations of our shows. However, we did manage to get a lot of views and I think cast members were appreciative of having their performances seen by more than the 15 people allowed in the theater (due to social distancing requirements before the complete shut down).
How has the changes in the world changed your own work?
I think it’s made me more mindful and appreciative about creating and producing my own work. When live theatre disappeared for so long, I really felt my world diminished. I really, deeply felt that the time I’d normally use to create and perform was stolen away from me. A lot of theatres did not survive the shut down, so it’s important that those of us still producing at a fringe, indie level continue to do so.