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A Disturbing Tale

Disturbed Theatre

"SOMETHING ONLY VERY FEW WOULD BE REPULSED BY" - Shera Cohen

The Avant Garde Sketch Comedy Troupe, Disturbed Theatre has entertained Audiences for the last decade with it's fast-paced stage show and disturbing videos.

The whole thing started with one of those chance meetings that often happen to people drawn to theater. Steve Henderson and Rob Murphy were both performing for a production of Northampton Children’s Theater. Steve had written and performed Rumpelstiltskin’s Rebuttal which had both perplexed and delighted a mixed audience of adults and children and which prompted Rob to ask if he was on medication. After passing several drug screens, Rob invited Steve out for a beer and to chat about a germ of an idea of a dream he had of creating a sketch comedy troupe. Steve swears that he really was only hoping for a free beer “but the sketch thing hasn’t been too bad”. Also writing and performing at the Children’s Theater was Bob Flaherty who rounded out the initial trio that was to become Disturbed Theatre. Joining them were Elaine Kabat and Ron Morin forming the original ensemble. This is referred to as the “Clickus and Clackus” era for reasons too gruesome to tell here. That was the Fall of 1997.

We had our first show in May of 1998 at a corporate seminar for communications employees. It was at a hotel in Nashua New Hampshire. Despite having no idea if our sketches were funny we were under rehearsed and ready to go and maintained almost a 10th of the audience. We were bad. Not just not good but bombing, flop sweat bad. We need to regroup. So after losing half the troupe to attrition (addition by subtraction) Rob and Steve booked a summer show at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield Massachusetts. We would be joined for this production by Shaun Barry, Roxanne Lobato and our new writer/performer/tech guru Pete Carlson. 4 nights in the middle of the summer. In retrospect it was a tad ambitious. Between all 4 nights we got about a good half audience.

Since that time several performers have appeared in Disturbed Theatre productions including: Frank Aronson, Shuan Barry, Roxanne Labato, David Sullivan, Elaine Kabat (again), Gracie Ganssle, Keith Purcell, Kelsey Flynn, Gregg Wolf, Chris Waldron, Gershon Eigner, Ray Suprenant, Amy Cawley, Candace Scott, Dave Goyette Trish Neild, Jarice Hanson, Paula Cortis, Will Munro, Gwen James, Jean Gorley, Joanie Cosoboom, Jen Wall, Barb McEuen, Connie Casagrande and partner in crime Craig Duda.

Sometime during the first year, Pete Carlson started sending in sketches he had written. When he grew tired of having them returned he began to put postage on them. He soon became part of the core group. Although Pete also serves as the Technical Director, his performance skills and the ability to make funny noises have made him a crowd favorite. Rob and Pete had worked together in the past on several video projects and video began to become an integral part of the Disturbed Theatre Show format.

The show format is based around a series of sketches. Usually unrelated and therefore requiring a common thread. That thread was always the music. The music selections were first used as a way of providing time in between sketches for costume and set changes. By choreographing set changes and providing music we could keep the fast pace of the show while transitioning sketches. The music is always selected to relate to the previous sketch as an extended punch line and is always something the audience responds to enthusiastically. We expanded to video in our first year and the show evolved into 2 acts of 5 sketches and 2-3 videos each. It is the format we use to this day.

In year two Bob Laviolette brought his tremendous talent and experience as a director and performer to Disturbed Theatre. Around the beginning of the third year we misplaced Bob. We don’t really know what happened to him but we assume he is alive and reasonably well, probably just another victim of artistic good taste. Also during our second year The Girl (AKA Anna Popp) joined DT as a performer and took over a lot of the press agent work. She followed a long tradition of women who, for unknown and/or unexplained reasons, had left DT after only a few performances. And following suit, Anna retired (we like to call it Hiatus) from DT after only a few years (3 years we believe may be a record that will stand the test of time). She will continue to appear with us on video (and in our hearts) and lends us her talents in the recording of our radio spots. You can take The Girl out of Disturbed Theatre but you can’t take Disturbed Theatre out of The Girl.

Our first show with Anna was a hosting job for the Ad Club's Creative Merit Awards in the spring of 1999. The Troupe was Rob Murphy, Steve Henderson, Pete Carlson, Anna Popp with Bob Laviolette directing. We did 3 Sketches and 3 videos and Steve hosted the ceremony. Much to our (and their) surprise we were a big hit. We immediately booked another summer show at the Majestic. this time One night only. We also named this show for the first time, it was called Unmedicated Gall. It would be one of the few names that didn't have a form of the word disturb in it. Also for this show we kicked our advertising and marketing into gear. We acquired a show sponsor in the Advocate. Utilizing the talents of my friend and coworker, Paul "Pauly P" Pereiera and got ourselves a nice print ad. We built a show around the 3 sketches and videos that worked at the ad show we also had a mailing list thanks to that show and sent out a post card about are new show. It all paid off. We experienced our first sell out! The adrenaline rush from that crowd was awesome. We killed. And we now had fans!

Anna introduced us to Dave Goyette and Dave provided us with an interesting story. Dave joined us in the fall of 1999 in preparation for our first Night Northampton and Hu ke lau show in February of 2000. After missing the dress rehearsal before his first DT show (Disturbing The Peace, Majestic, 2001)because (and here is where it gets good) while golfing under the influence he lost (or his dog ate) his car keys, we decided to make Dave Goyette one of the core troupe (hey it takes a good actor to come up with something that layered). Despite his annoying habit of being talented and bringing great surprises to old sketches and wonderful ideas to new ones (usually in a shameless attempt to get more stage and video time) we had to retire Dave for is lact of reliability. We told him it wasn't him it was us.

Providing the lights and sound tech for that show was Stefan Billups. We were very lucky and very spoiled to have someone of his talents on tech for this show after this we had nothing but issues as our tech just kept getting more complex. But our real luck happened when he approached us after the show about our video. He first told us how much he liked the show but thought our video stuff was not of the quality we needed. This began a long relationship with Stef and Billups World Entertainment. Stef produced a lot of our most popular videos and our first shoot was a full 17 hour extravaganza that had drama as well as comedy.

As Video Director Rob is responsible for producing all our videos and he has been lucky to work with some awesome people. the aforementioned Stefan Billups was Rob's Director of Photography and editor for several years. Stef worked tirelessly at making fun of all the members of our troupe with a subtle dry humor and a hearty laugh that made us all glad he had studios with a pool and a basketball court. Also aiding us on video production along the way was Jarice Hanson and Joe Torino , a student editor at Quinipiac College who helped produce the famous Good Grape and Hard Ass series.

At the beginning of year three we added the directing talents of Dick Volker. Dick has been in show business longer than most of us have been alive (sorry Steve). Dick’s contributions have been substantial and have made us realize how important it is for us to have Dick. He puts up with a lot from this rag tag bunch and we appreciate it. In fact, there have been moments when we have been known to shout as a group, “We need DICK!”

After Anna left we were all blessed to be in the presence of an ingénue of the caliber of Joni Cossaboom. She left us all giddy with our own good fortune. A more talented actress and singer one could not hope to find and funny, well let's just say that Joni knows how to milk a laugh. She is a quick witted sketch actress and she introduced us to Craig Duda, AKA Ed Carey's Brothers Roommate, who joined us and provided us with a very strong "big man" presence. As everyone knows, since Jackie Gleason really good comedy hinges on the presence of a strong large man and comedy is proportional to size (sorry Steve.) Craig also lent his time and talent to helping Rob compose and produce the soundtrack for our shows and editing and producing our videos. Also rounding out the troupe, last but certainly not least, Jenny Wall. DT had been after Jenn for a long time. Unfortunately she was always been to busy to accept our invitation to play with us. But Jenn had recently returned from a touring show and, lucky us, was available to join us. What she didn't realize is that our shows require an exorbitant amount of time topless. Not on Stage but in rehearsal. It was completely gratuitous but we enjoyed it. And so did Jenny. She became expert in the tit flash. 

This was the troupe we had in place for 2 years and a series of shows at City Stage, Hukelau, Opening PACE Theatre in Easthampton and the infamous NY show at the Producers Club (the former Improv).  This troupe worked and acted as one and brought some of our greatest successes.

All good things must come to an end and so it is with local talent. Craig Duda went to film school and moved to LA in 2005 were he is occasionally in front and often behind the camera and living in Hollywood . Joanie Cosaboom and Jenny Wall both went on to pursue their careers in NY. After Joanie and Jenn left but before Craig left we found a fresh young actress named Connie Cossagrande. Connie had never been on stage but was funny as hell and wanted to be on stage more than anyone I've ever known. She only did one show where she was the featured actress but it was memorable. Throughout she was pregnant and that included playing a pregnant Barbie in the Toy Story Sketch written by Craig. Connie has gone on to do a lot of local theater and holds the distinction of being the only performer to be on stage with both Disturbed Theatre and The Villa Jidiots Improv troupe.

After Craig and Connie left we were again we were lucky in finding Will Munro. Will, an early fan of DT, is a fine young actor who is always willing to take a huge risk. (As Will proved by playing Sripely Critulus in the "Secret Asian Man" sequel.) Gwen James has also provided us with her acting talent and humor in up through 2006. And finally Jean Gorely, who is a great actress who basically did a walk on for us but really got caught in the spirit of the show when she was heard saying "What a Rush!" after coming off stage.

For our return in 2009 we bilt our core audience through facebook slowly adding videos of our performances and teasing them with our “in 3 words” posts.  We brought back Connie and Will and since they were stuck with Pete, Steve and Rob we relaxed into the collaborative process and these 5 individuals have tapped a new creative vein and brought us some of the freshest, absurdist humor we have produced.  We are loving and laughing through a usually arduous rehearsal process and the results have been audiences howling with laughter.  And we are in this for the laughs so thank you one and all.  In 3 words… We Love You!