Venue will host improv group, stand-up

There’s nothing funny about the Chapel Restoration — or is there?

For the first time, programmers at the historic former church overlooking the Hudson River in Cold Spring plan to bring comedy to its stage.

“Just like with our Reading Series [with writers and poets], the idea starts with what we want to see ourselves,” said filmmaker Ivy Meeropol, who is on the chapel board. “We hope the community will be excited, too. I love live comedy, and being outside the city means not having as much access to it.” 

She added: “We can all use a lot more laughter in our lives these days. The chapel is the perfect, intimate venue. But since it’s not a nightclub or a bar — although we will be selling wine and beer — the question became: What kind of comedy acts will work best there?”

Clockwise from top left: Michael Short, Don Romaniello, Lisa Pertoso, Joanna Castle Miller, TJ Del Reno, Isabel Hagen
Clockwise from top left: Michael Short, Don Romaniello, Lisa Pertoso, Joanna Castle Miller, TJ Del Reno, Isabel Hagen

First up, on March 9, will be the Beacon-based improv troupe Dutchess, which had previously performed as Vesuvius. It will perform From the Foundry Archives: An Improv Comedy Show, drawing on ties to history in Philipstown, where humor evidently goes way back. 

Two weeks later, on March 22, the venue will welcome Isabel Hagen, a stand-up comedian with anecdotal, droll material who also happens to play the viola. 

The performers and writers in Dutchess are “some of the best improvisers around who happened to move up [from New York City] to the Hudson Valley,” says Lisa Pertoso, who is a member. “We create comedy shows on the spot. We’re independent from any theater, which allows us the artistic freedom to experiment with different forms.”

In what must certainly be a first, the troupe says its improvised performance will be inspired by the former West Point Foundry. “From locomotives and ironclad ships to questionable beard choices, the best way to remember our local history is to laugh about it,” according to its promotional material.

The members of Dutchess found each other about a year ago. “Some of us were familiar with each other,” says Pertoso. “I went to a show in Beacon, and we started rehearsing regularly. Over the past two years there has been an increase in improv in many forms; more and more people have been trained in it, and it’s spreading as an art form.” 

There are two main types of improv: short- and long-form. “Short includes improv games, while in long-form a group creates a play with characters and a made-up-on-the-spot-from-audience-prompts story,” she explains. 

At the chapel, “we will be creating a play that will be comedic and is spontaneous and unscripted. We’re often asked if we use the framework of a play, and the answer is always no. We don’t know what will happen. There are some rules, but within that structure, chaos can come.”

The performers still rehearse, however. “We need to keep flexing our muscles to stay fresh,” she says.

The vibe for long-form improv is different from stand-up, which is more ‘you need to make me laugh,’ ” Pertoso says: “That’s more of a challenge. With a collaborative improv group, audience members are usually with us for the ride. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and it can feel magical. At the end, we often are asked: ‘Wow, you made that up?’ We mirror each other, the audience and the players.

“Improv is not about being funny, it’s about finding truth in the moment, following the fun and tapping into the group genius,” she says.

The troupe is relying on historical research by Joanna Castle Miller, who is also a performer. “Joanna is finding content that makes sense — we think! — as we have no idea what she’s going to read,” Pertoso says. 

Along with Pertoso and Miller, the cast will include TJ Del Reno, Don Romaniello and Michael Short.

Hagen is a Juilliard-trained and Broadway pit violist who, after an injury prevented her from practicing, decided to test her stand-up comedy act at clubs.

Last year she recounted to The Washington Post that, at the beginning, “I was terrible at telling jokes. But just the act of it felt even more suited to me than music had.”

But she rose quickly and has appeared twice on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and created a web series, Is a Violist (see isabelhagen.com). Her chapel appearance is a stop on a national tour that began Feb. 9. 

The Chapel Restoration is located at 45 Market St., in Cold Spring. Dutchess will perform at 7:30 p.m. on March 9; tickets are $15 at bit.ly/dutchess-3-9. The show is recommended for ages 13 and older. Hagen will perform at 7 p.m. on March 22; tickets are $25 at bit.ly/hagen-chapel.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Rooney has been writing for The Current since its founding in 2010. A playwright, she has lived in Cold Spring since 1999. She is a graduate of Binghamton University, where she majored in history. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: Arts

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