Voices from the Fringe: Kat Primeau of Improv Troupe Robot Teammate

After taking 2018 off, the award-winning improv musical comedy troupe Robot Teammate is making a welcome return to this year’s Fringe with Pockets, a brand-new production.

Kat Primeau, Robot Teammate member and producer, co-writer, choreographer and co-star of Pockets, was happy to speak with Better Lemons about the troupe’s Fringe comeback and the new show.

Better Lemons: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Pockets.
Kat Primeau: Robot Teammate completed our "T-Trilogy" of musicals (Timeheart, Thug Tunnel and Turbulence!) with an off-Broadway run at SoHo Playhouse in 2017. After that, we had been joking about doing a "P-Trilogy," with Perm, a parody in the realm of Hair, when Dave [Reynolds] pitched a story about "Pockets, a young female thief." We thought it could be a perfect vehicle for Molly [Dworsky] to star in, and our story grew from there. We actually wrote songs and a script for the first version of Pockets that got completely thrown out, but we love the story now and hope it will be our funniest, most touching tale yet!

BL: What about the music? Was it a collaborative effort?
KP: Everything about a Robot Teammate musical is collaborative, and each song has a different origin story. Our musical director and teammate, Branson NeJame, has crafted a beautiful theme for the kingdom of Crumpeton and shaped every improvised and demo'd idea with loving attention. Some songs were lyric-driven, whereas others were inspired by a melody. Others are hammered out through many rounds and rewrites and deliberate arrangement. It's quite different than what we are used to as musical improvisers, so we always relish the songwriting process.

BL: Since it’s a period piece, what style — or styles — is the music? And how were the sets and costuming created?
KP: Aside from a bardic tone, the music is modern. Branson has been inspired by ELO to create a fusion of pop, rock, disco and classical music, with a little tango and reggae thrown in. Our production elements are limited to due to the nature of 15-minute Fringe load-ins, and our costumes are a mishmash of borrowed period pieces and modern basics. The book and lyrics go a long way in filling out our world, so we are able to leave room for the imagination.

BL: Who’s playing whom?
KP: Pockets stars Molly Dworsky as Bellamina Crumbledunk, the precocious thirteen-year-old daughter of The Duchess of Crumpeton, Winifred Dolores Crumbledunk, played by me. When Bellamina rebels against her mother, she enters society's underbelly and befriends the mischievous crook, Veegan (Chris Bramante). Dave Reynolds rounds out our main cast as Town Crier — Rob Crier, The Clutch to the Duch — Barkly St. Piggins, and the revolutionary Jim Val Jim. We also have an ensemble cast of friends joining us again this year.

BL: What can audiences expect when they attend the show? What makes Pockets a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe?
KP: We are lucky to have an incredible live band led by Branson NeJame on keys, Harrison Lee on cello, trombone, and guitar, Chris Sousa on bass, and Sam Kirsch on drums, so expect the music to be completely original and totally rockin'! The British-ish world we've built together is charming and wacky and fast-paced, so audiences may experience deep belly laughs and perhaps even a bit of "The Feelz."

We have a dynamic female protagonist and a fresh take on the mother-daughter story, so we hope to present a thoroughly modern piece of musical theater that delights and truly does us justice as writers and content creators. We have poured our hearts and lives into this musical, and we believe there's something for everyone — woman or man, young or old — to fall in love with.

Molly Dworsky, Kat Primeau, Dave Reynolds, Branson NeJame and Chris Bramante are Robot Teammate in POCKETS - photo by Dave Newberg

BL: It’s been a couple of years since Turbulence!. What has Robot Teammate been up to?
KP: Robot Teammate spent 2017 working on Turbulence!, taking home awards for Best Musical, Best World Premiere, A Little New Music’s Outstanding Songwriting and Better Lemon’s Critics' Choice at Hollywood Fringe before traveling to NYC to do an Off-Broadway run at the historic SoHo Playhouse. It was an exhilarating and exhausting endeavor, and finding a way to follow up our success hasn't been easy. We've kept up our improvised musical performances at venues like Westside Comedy and Impro Studio Theatre, and recorded some podcast material we may or may not release.

Personally, I lost my dad to a bewildering form of early-onset dementia known as Frontotemporal Degeneration, wrote a children's book for my niece, and recorded an album with my band, Sumeau. We've had all manner of life experiences pop up since then, and two of our teammates left our collective to focus on their solo projects, so we really just took the time to regroup and refine the kind of stories we want to spend time scripting and bringing into the world. Each musical is an intensive, collaborative labor of love, so we didn't want to rush things.

BL: What keeps you coming back to the Fringe?
KP: Fringe is an incredible breeding ground for creativity, and the energy around new works is unparalleled in LA. Since 2015, we've devoted our Junes to this community, and the payoff has been incredible. We love the artists we meet, the connections we make, the fun we have, the shows we see, and the feedback we receive. It is such a stark contrast from any improv festival we've been a part of, and there's truly nothing like the deadline of Opening Night to really light a fire under our butts and make an idea come to fruition.

BL: What other shows are you interested in seeing at the Fringe?
KP: I am so stoked to see Four Clowns returning to HFF with a new show, Shakedown at the Dusty Spur!! There are several new shows promising badass women from medieval times, so we will definitely be checking those out. The Duchess & The Stripper, 45 Milligrams, Earth To Karen, Hamiltunes, and Tabletop Musical are all on my must-see list this year.

Pockets plays June 15-29 at The Broadwater, 1076 Lillian Way. Ticketing
information and specific dates and showtimes can be obtained on the Fringe site.

Voices from Hollywood Fringe 2017: Exclusive Interview – Kat Primeau, Producer/Performer of ‘TURBULENCE!'

Making its triumphant return to the Fringe after last year's acclaimed Thug Tunnel, the award-winning musical improv group Robot Teammate & the Accidental Party is premiering its third scripted musical for the #HFF17, entitled TURBULENCE!.
The story: The 4242 Intergalympics have arrived, and the competition between humans on Earth and Mars is at a fever pitch. An epic race around the sun concludes the events, but the untimely demise of Earth's designated competitors means the haphazard crew of the S.S. Albacore and their android assistant Mambo 4 (Dave Reynolds) must go to bat.
Can Captain Davin Galaxy (Miles Crosman) win the respect of his team in time to win the race and prove that Earth isn't the shabby dirt turd the Martians think it is? Will astrophysicist Dr. Joules Johnson (Kat Primeau) be able to master turbulent energy to their advantage? Can demolition-derby mechanic Mick Cribbins (Chris Bramante) translate his expertise in space? And will nihilist navigation specialist Pattern MaGerk (Molly Dworsky) find a way to really care about it all?
Robot Teammate producer/performer Kat Primeau was kind enough to take some time out of the busy preproduction schedule to answer some questions about the show and the troupe's activities.
What was the inspiration behind this year's show?
The Robot Teammate ensemble floated a lot of ideas before TURBULENCE! was voted into development. The story is very loosely based on a zany space crew musical with the same title that we improvised in 2016 at Impro Theatre, but we had no recordings of the show, so only our best memories have made it into the script. After last year's original musical Thug Tunnel, we were really excited by the idea of doing an ensemble piece, and we love playing with sci-fi, but this show also has a sports comedy twist.
What about the development process? How did the show evolve?
We continue to refine our process through trial and error, and for the first time this year we codified how the script was to develop. Pulling what we loved from the initial improvisation, we started by creating an outline as a group, with Miles (our head writer) hammering out drafts, watching reference materials (Cool Runnings, Galaxy Quest and Noises Off, especially), researching the science behind the story (Cosmos and StarTalk Radio with Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and bringing what made us laugh to each subsequent round of revisions. It is still evolving as we get it up on its feet, and we're grateful for our improv background for allowing us to be comfortable with changes this late in the game.
Tell us about the actors involved and what they bring to the show.
Each member of Robot Teammate is contributing to the story — lyrics, production, and most importantly, their characters in this show — even the musicians! We're celebrating our 5th anniversary as a musical comedy ensemble in 2017, and know that we are our most entertaining selves when we lean in to our unique chemistry as an ensemble. When we are making each other laugh and bringing our critical eye to the table, we are able to create stories that have a larger impact than any of us could have done alone.
What about the music? Is there a particular theme or style?
We initially wanted a more electronic palette, with our spaceship's console as functional, pre-programmed synth pads the crew would play in conjunction with the action on stage. We still hope to do that one day, but we've transitioned to our music director, Sam Johnides, composing tracks and all of us writing lyrics. The style is very modern, with thick harmonies and high-intensity arrangements to go along with the sports theme, but we hope audiences will still find it to be catchy and most of all fun!
For fans of Robot Teammate (and I'm thinking along the lines of MST3K), are there Easter eggs in TURBULENCE! that will strike a chord?
There are many nods to classic sci-fi tropes. As for Easter eggs, you'll have to bring your baskets to the hunt (aka the show). We don't want to spoil the fun.
Since you've become Fringe veterans, have you become more confident with the time constraints involved in setup and staging? How have you taken advantage of it?
Making cuts for time is challenging, but always leads to a tighter, more comedic script, so we are embracing that and anticipating killing many more of our darlings before opening night. We're being more playful with our set and costumes and have a load-out joke in our closing number. Knowing what to anticipate is helpful, but there are always new obstacles in Fringe theater!
What is it about the Fringe that makes it so welcoming to projects like TURBULENCE!?
Robot Teammate performs a lot in comedy venues and weekly on the Geek & Sundry live stream, which broadcasts on Twitch.TV to audiences around the world, so Fringe really allows us to get back to our theatre roots and be a part of the immediate community. We love seeing our peers experimenting on stage, and enjoy challenging ourselves to write better jokes, songs, and heartfelt stories in response to the raw feedback inherent in Fringe.
Talk a bit about the release of the soundtrack of last year's show, Thug Tunnel. How did that come about?
We were thrilled when A Little New Music gave us the ‘Outstanding Songwriting Award' at Fringe last year as well as being encouraged by the effusive response to our music we received from audiences, so recording it for our fans seemed like a no-brainer. I work part-time at a recording studio and my boyfriend Chris Sousa (who was also the bassist for THUG TUNNEL) is an audio engineer, so we spent Labor Day 2016 recording vocals in Frank Sinatra's old room at EastWest Studios and the remaining five months recording, editing, and mixing the album at home. Check it out on Spotify, iTunes, and robotteammate.com now!
What other shows are on your hit list for #HFF17?
We're excited for Cherry Poppins' Shakeslesque, MB Productions' remount of The Video Games, Trump in Space (which Sam Johnides also composed music for), Office Beat and SLASHED! The Musical.
What's next on the agenda for Robot Teammate?
We have new live-stream shows in development at Geek & Sundry as well as three live shows, an album release, an album release party and multiple rehearsals before the end of this week, so we're taking it one day at a time. We'll have more songs, stories and narrative musicals available for more audiences soon. Stay tuned!
TURBULENCE! plays June 10 through June 22 on various dates and at various times at the Sacred Fools Theatre Main Stage, 1076 Lillian Way. More information and tickets can be obtained on the Fringe site.

This interview was originally published on BlogCritics.org.