Announcing Treehouse Theater's Educational Program

September 2, 2014

Rob Reese, Education Director of the new company Treehouse Theater, talks to nytheater now about the new space and the curriculum of their educational program. Rob is a director and playwright whose work is available on Indie Theater Now.

Visit Treehouse Theater's website

NYTN: We are so excited that there’s a new theater and theater school in Manhattan! Can you tell us a bit about how the theater came to be, and where it got its cool name?

ROB: Many people will remember the venue itself as The Former PIT (Peoples Improv Theater).

They outgrew the space and took over the old Algonquin Theater, and this theater lay fallow for three or four years. PIT owner Ali Farahnakian, caretaker of The PIT, decided to re-open the venue as a new theater, committed to the tenets of improvisation but branching out into all genres and types of performance.

What’s in a name? In May this theater opened as This Theater, which totally appealed to the Abbott and Costello fan in me, but it turns out not everyone wants to perform a vaudeville routine every time they’re pitching a show!

Since we’re so committed to collaborative theater, we opened the suggestions up to the public at large with our #namethistheater campaign. “The Treehouse” was a popular suggestion and it spoke to us as a playground, as being connected with our environment; it suggests growth, expansion, branching out (puns always intended) and it reflects the lovely hardwood floor and benches that decorate our beautiful lobby.

NYTN: You’re the Education Director for Treehouse Theater. What does that mean (what do you do)? What’s your vision for the educational program from the company?

ROB: I have the honor and responsibility of setting the curriculum for the program and for seeking out the appropriate, qualified teachers to execute that program. My two basic goals are:

  1. To offer classes that I would want to take, from teachers from whom I’d like to learn.
  2. To produce performers with whom I’d like to work, with a breadth of experience and education.

The overall vision of the educational program is based in improvisational skills, techniques, and philosophies, but branching out into all genres of performance. We enjoy performers with wide skill sets who can consistently perform with spontaneity and joy.

NYTN: Do you want to mention a bit about your diverse background that prepared you for this gig?

ROB: Ali approached me specifically with this gig practically written for my resume. I trained in the “big three” improv schools in Chicago (I’m now one of the few NY-based teachers who studied directly under Del Close), and taught for Second City when they had their NYC Training Center. My NY company Amnesia Wars has performed in NY, the US, and worldwide, stretching the boundaries of improvised performance as well as mounting scripted and devised productions. I’ve directed and written in “straight” theater, classical, avant-garde and even opera (including Miranda, winner of the 2012 Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical). On top of that I’ve worked in various capacities (including design and tech) for The Wooster Group, The Public Theater / NY Shakespeare Fest., Pilobolus Dance, Battery Dance, and many more. These jobs have not only afforded me great growth experience as an artist, but significantly expands the roster of people I can call upon as teaching artists.

NYTN: So what classes are on offer for the initial enrollment period? Who are the teachers?

ROB: I couldn’t be more excited about this initial slate of classes, the teachers are all amazing teaching artists with enviable qualifications and resumes:

For performing artist (and interested ‘civilians’) who are ready for their first improvisation class, our “Stage I” is being taught by PIT star Kaitlin Fontana, with whom I’m working closely to develop a syllabus in theatrical improvisation designed to benefit performing artists in all genres. Anyone who’s avoided an ‘improv comedy’ class in the past should be interested in this one.

For people who already have a bit of an improv background, I’m teaching a Scenework intensive, Second City veteran Pat McCartney is teaching a class in improvised characters, and Michael Gellman, Second City Mainstage Director and Training Center Director, will be stopping in to run a one-day workshop.

Just as exciting are our non-improv courses, designed to be accessible by improvisers and ‘straight theater’ students alike:

  • Downtown Superstar Hanna Cheek (Waterwell, The Pumpkin Pie Show, etc) teaches a class in monologues.
  • Regional and Off Broadway actor Julia Motyka (The Folger, Roundabout, Primary Stages, EST, etc) is running our scene-study class.
  • Our Shakespeare & Classics class is being run by Emily Trask, who acts for Yale Rep, The Folger Theater, Bay Street Theater and Montana and Utah Shakespeare Festivals.
  • We’ve got a comedy songwriting class by Jessica Delfino of Dr. Demento and “Funny Songs Fest” fame.
  • Last but not least our Viewpoints / Improvised Movement class is run by Austrian Director / Devised Theater Diva Sina Heiss.

In addition to all of the four and eight week courses above we’ve got some single day classes, all taught by amazing teaching artists:

  • 9/14 - Improvised Special Effects by GCI and IN celeb Lulu French.
  • 9/21- Clowning by Bradford and Aelita West, both of whom tour the world in Slava’s Snowshow.
  • 9/28 - Burlesque by leader of the Hot Box Girls Kacey Cardin.
  • 10/5 - The Jazz of Theater by the aforementioned Michael Gellman.
  • 10/12 - Intro to percussion with Brad Carbone, who works in Off Broadway and Broadway pit orchestras.
  • 10/19 - Vocal Technique and Character Voices by opera singer and composer Kamala Sankaram.
  • 10/26 - Contact Improv (improvised Modern Dance) by Battery Dance Company Member Mira Cook.

Single session, 4 hour classes are only $60 each.
4 Week classes are only $149 and begin the weekend of 9/13.
8 Week classes are only $249 and begin the weekend of 9/13.

Registration is open now at





More about the playwright in this article:
Loco7's "Undefined Fraction" at La MaMa
I got to pay a visit to one of my all-time favorite indie theaters, La MaMa E.T.C., for a performance of Undefined Fraction, which is part of the company's 2015 Puppet Series. This blend of edgy puppetry, physical theater, and dance is an exemplar of the kind of meditative hybrid installation/happening/drama that has been a mainstay of this East Village institution for decades.
Trav S.D.'s Great Vaudeville History
A look back at Trav S.D.'s book on vaudeville, published 10 years ago this month.
United Solo 2014: Done; United Solo 2015: Starting Now!
ITN's United Solo 2014 play collection is now complete; and our first 2015 play--LOUISE IN CHARLESTOWN by Penny Jackson--is available as well.