Last Friday night, housed in a theater on a busy corner of the vibrant Hollywood Blvd, “robots” performed a fully developed musical revolving around a deadly roller derby battle. As the team lifted a rollerblading assassin, played by Chris Bramante, high in air to attack Nikki Muller’s derby girl during the musical’s climax, I had trouble believing the group was making up everything on the spot, but I should have expected nothing less from championship musical improvisational team Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party.
Founded in 2012, Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party is a record-breaking improvised musical troupe, performing most often at iO West where they currently hold the record for most consecutive wins in the Cherry Crush cage match at eighty one weeks and counting. They have also played Upright Citizens Brigade, The Clubhouse, Neon Venus, Bang! Comedy Theatre, and The Cupcake Theater. The team spoke to me after a recent show at iO West.
“The group started when one of our piano players, Shawn Grindle (of Town in the City) mentioned to me that our college improv troupe, Black Sheep Inc. at Ohio University, had been doing musical improv, and he had been playing piano for them,” Bryan Cain, one of the founding members, explained. “I had been wanting to try musical improv, so I rounded up a group of friends and we started practicing on our own at Shawn’s house.”
After asking the audience for a musical concept that has “never been performed before,” RT+AP created an original show around the suggestion, including music, lyrics, choreography, a multi-act story structure, and the occasional show-stopping theme song (in a recent show, toddlers escaping from a daycare sang they must take “Baby Steps” out of captivity).
Comprising improvisers from various musical backgrounds and all walks of show business, including animation, film, theatre, the music industry, and beyond, RT+AP has improvised over a hundred full-fledged musicals with titles ranging from “Hercules Jacuzzi” to “Stormtrooper Striptease” (viewable on their YouTube channel).
“The most common structure is a Disney-inspired Hero vs. Villain structure where we set up our protagonist, their antagonist, explore our world, and build to a roaring climax,” Bramante explained. “Obviously, the comedic aspect of our performances is important, but we thrive off of creating beautiful sounds and enchanting music. The spontaneous discovery of music is a huge part of what we do.” Member Miles Crosman agreed. “The great thing about our form is that it doesn’t rely on the jokes. I mean, we go for the ‘bits’ for sure, but the music forces the characters to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and there’s a narrative to fall back on and get invested in.”
After exploring a new form of “choose your own adventure” musical, the suggestion “roller derby” is handed down by the audience, and the troupe immediately finds themselves in the middle of a heated, music-laced battle between rival roller rink teams.
The show’s hero, played by Molly Dworsky, belts out a ballad as she struggles to choose a roller derby name, landing on “Beyon-satan.” Dave Reynolds sticks a pillow under his shirt to form a fake bosom and musically warns Dworsky against competing against her team. “Roller Derby The Musical” climaxes with (what else?) a deadly roller derby battle. The no-holds-barred approach Robot Teammate employs to creating their high-energy, multi-level musicals is what makes a good improv team truly great.
“My favorite part is the excitement of people after they’ve just seen their first Robot Teammate show,” Cain says. “We’ve had several people tell us they’ve never seen anything like it, or that it’s their favorite improv they’ve seen. I believe improv holds many keys to a powerful life philosophy, and so when I can help open someone’s eyes to it in such a powerful way, that feels great.” In light of their status as a championship cage match team, Robot Teammate plans to build their fan base in exciting ways, such as by touring the country or performing on a cruise ship, and by conducting workshops to teach others what they’ve learned.
In a world where everything is made up on the spot, the creation of impromptu yet fully-fledged musicals has lead to countless fun performances during which the team embraces and revels in the challenge of creating music on the spot.
“The lights went out during the show at Lake Arrowhead, so we started our musical in darkness,” Crosman recounted. “It was this cool show about a man falling in love with a ghost because we were told all these ghost stories about the property. Then the lights came back on during the show and it was oh so very magical. Plus Chris, Kat, and I were the British Ghostbusters.”
You can catch Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party perform every Monday at 10pm during the Cherry Crush cagematch at iO West (if their winning streak continues), and their next monthly hour-long show is Friday, April 25th, at 8pm at iO West.
Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party is Chris Bramante, Bryan Cain, Miles Crosman, Molly Dworsky, Shawn Grindle, Sam Johnides, Nikki Muller, Kat Primeau, Dave Reynolds and Matthew Schiavone. For more information on Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party: