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.


Hollywood Fringe's TURBULENCE Hits Downtown NYC Theatre Scene!

The Los Angeles-based comedy improv troupe Robot Teammate is crossing the country in October to make its New York debut at the SoHo Playhouse as part of the Fringe Encore Series. The troupe will be performing its original scripted musical, Turbulence!, which won Best Musical, Best World Premiere, Critics' Choice, and A Little New Music's Award for Outstanding Songwriting at the Hollywood Fringe this past June.

Since this marks the ensemble's debut on the East Coast, performers/writers/producers Chris Bramante, Molly Dworsky and Kat Primeau were happy to participate in a roundtable interview about this exciting event.

How did the opportunity arise for Robot Teammate to make its New York theater debut with Turbulence!?

Molly Dworsky: Our Fringe audiences have come to know us as passionate creators of new comedy musicals and have honored us by filling the seats of our venue and telling their friends to come, too. Our hard-earned reputation garnered interest from an important stranger this year — a theater scout from New York who saw Turbulence! He reached out to us see if we'd like to co-produce the show at his theater, the SoHo Playhouse, for its Fringe Encore series. We were elated and said yes immediately!

artwork: Monica M. Magana and Dan Schaffer

Has any member of the cast worked in New York theater before? If so, what were the circumstances?

Chris Bramante: Beyond writing and performing in playwright colloquiums when I was studying at NYU Tisch, this will be my very first actual New York theater production. When I think about it that way...well, hot dog! I'm even more psyched than I already was, which was quite a darn bit.

Kat Primeau: I did an Off-Broadway Playwrights Festival years ago, performing Dana Lynn Formby's beautiful short play, Armed with Peanut Butter, and later spent time interning at Culture Project, a political theater company. I had the time of my life, dropping postcards off at theaters around Manhattan and feeling the electricity of the sidewalks powering me along as we endeavored to make the world a better place through art.

What's the most exciting aspect of bringing the show to the SoHo Playhouse?

Molly: While Robot Teammate has traveled for the weekend here and there around the Southwest for festivals, two-day residencies and workshops, we have never undergone a cross-country trip together, nor have we tested a run of a show outside of California. This will be groundbreaking for our team, and we all love this work and each other so much. We are over the moon about sharing the experience of New York theater performance with each other.

Chris: I'm excited about being a mere few blocks away from Blue Ribbon Sushi. But even more so, getting to assemble and meet with other artists bringing their work to the Festival and this super dope venue. As a Hamilton obsessee, the fact that the theater used to be owned by Aaron Burr (sir) is also a fun bit of something.

Kat: I love viewing theater from all around the world. It's always a treat to see different artists' processes and products. I love meeting new producing entities and getting insight to what work and subject matter interests them. It's consumer research, understanding what artists and audiences are hungry for. I'm really looking forward to connecting with international and regional companies also participating in the festival. An opportunity to travel with your craft is always amazing, especially when it reunites you with old producing partners and new potential collaborators!

Martians from Turbulence (photo by Matt Kamimura)

What are you most looking forward to experiencing in the Big Apple?

Molly: I'm sure it's slightly different for everyone, but I'm excited to not have to worry about driving or parking! I can't wait to walk everywhere and use great public transportation. Also, connecting with dear friends in New York will be a top priority.

Chris: New York is a second home to me, as I lived there for five years, first studying at NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing and then working my first job in media at ABC News. I cannot wait to see all my friends, family and professors who are still living and thriving in the city. I've been performing with Robot Teammate out in Los Angeles for over five years and so many of my beloved people have never gotten the chance to see my little musicbot family. I hope the current student body of the Department of Dramatic Writing attends. Ya see, kids? Study hard and show up to class and then one day you can stomp around in shiny silver hot pants just like this alum.

Kat: I can't wait to spend time with my friends from Ohio University, eat a ton of bagels and actually see Autumn again!

How do you think New York audiences will receive Turbulence!?

Molly: We hope our show can transcend coastal preferences and be as well-received in the theater capitol of the world, if not more beloved, than it was in Los Angeles. Because our show is feel-good, family-friendly and only an hour long, we think it can be like a chocolate cookie of a show instead of some of the more hardy and harder-to-swallow meals like the serious/dramatic/two+ hour shows. This show is fun, and we know people tend to need an escape from a scarily un-fun reality right now.

Chris: I think they will love it. Hey, it's a fast-paced, zany comedy with catchy synthpop tunes at an affordable ticket price. It's theater that a tourist can pop in and pop out of. Perfect for a family that can't afford the higher Broadway prices but still wants to experience a theater production in New York.

Robot Teammate's 2016 Fringe Show - poster by Dax Schaffer and Monica M. Magana

Have you had any interaction with New York improv theater companies yet? Have they offered you any tips or guidance?

Kat: We are performing at the New York Musical Improv Festival at the Magnet Theater on October 22nd with a really incredible team we met at West Coast Music Improv Festival earlier this year, American Immigrant. We are excited to see them and a bunch of talented musical improvisers while we are in town, and are reaching out to our friends in comedy for advice and support. I have to give a shout-out to my theater company buddies at the TEAM and Theatre for New Audiences who have been especially helpful so far!

Since winning a bunch of awards at the 2017 Fringe, what kind of interest has the show engendered and how has it benefited the company?

Chris: It has given us a chance to bring our show to the musical epicenter of the planet, so that's incredible. We hope to create lasting connections with theater communities out here while we're in the midst of the run.

Molly: It seems that successes come and go so quickly in Hollywood (or anywhere). We've enjoyed putting our laurels on our promotional materials, but it's a challenge to get our art in the right hands — to someone who could really make a difference for our creative careers. Mostly, the awards give us confidence to keep working toward our dreams and confirms that what we're doing is really resonating with our friends and fans.

Is anyone going to squeeze in some New York theater while you're there? If so, what do you want to see?

Chris: Yep! As a huge animation fanboy, I really just gotta see Anastasia. I love it too much to not. I would also love to take my shot at the Hamilton lottery to see the new cast (was lucky enough to see Lin, Leslie, Renee and the original cast two years ago). Most certainly I want to check out Sleep No More. Would love recommendations! What should we see?

Kat: My first goal is to get to the Hayden Planetarium and convince Neil deGrasse Tyson to come to our show. Second goal is supporting friends who are performing currently in the city. Third goal is exploring some immersive productions, new musical workshops and recommendations your readers leave us in the comments! Fourth is watching Broadway shows on tape at the New York Public Library.

Molly: We'd all die to see the Tony Award-winning Dear Evan Hansen, but we know we're not alone in that desire. We'll all definitely be visiting the TKTS line during our days off and drinking in whatever we can of your magical city. Hopefully this run of Turbulence! won't be Robot Teammate's last trip to New York together and we'll get to visit and see more shows as often as possible.

Turbulence! will play at various times from October 13-22 at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street. Exact showtimes and tickets can be obtained by visiting the theater's web site.