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The (Game)Play’s the Thing at a Cutting-Edge Theater Festival

The (Game)Play’s the Thing at a Cutting-Edge Theater Festival (photo)

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Video games and movies, for better or worse, seem to be a natural pairing for artistic crossover by virtue of their shared heritage in the moving image family. Theater, on the other hand, with its emphasis on the synergy between live humans to create once-in-lifetime performances, may not seem to be a great fit for a medium focused primarily on disembodied entertainment.

But that kind of fusion’s exactly what’s happening at the Brick Theater, the Brooklyn art space that will host the second annual Game Play Theater Festival, where performers try to meld live acting with elements of video game play over the span of three weeks. Game Play’s the brainchild of Gyda Arber, a New York City-based theater actress and director.

This year, Game Play will stage five productions from July 9th through the 25th. Eddie Kim’s “Grand Theft Ovid” uses machinima to adapt some of the ancient Roman playwright’s stories, while “Theater of the Arcade,” a collaboration between Arber and Jeff Lewonczyk, recasts stories from seminal old-school games like “Donkey Kong” and “Pac-Man” into theatrical experiences. “Modal Kombat” features classic guitarists David Hindman and Evan Drummond battling it out in a sonic showdown, thanks to a version of “Mortal Kombat” that’s been rigged to respond to instrumental input.

In addition to the plays, the festival will host several parties, including a “Rock Band” Karaoke Night and a dance fete with wearable, playable indie games from the Babycastles collective. Kim, Arber and Hindman took some time away from preparing for opening night to talk about the inspiration and process behind their pieces.

07092010_suspiciouspackagearber.jpgGyda, theater and technology are two things that people may not associate with each other. Are you coming at this from the perspective of a rabid gamer? Or did something else spark the desire to create and curate Game Play?

Gyda Arber: There are a large number of Brick artists that are big video game nerds, myself included. I think there’s a surprising overlap between theater nerds and video game nerds. The intersection is something that artists we work with have been playing with for a few years, and last year we found ourselves with three shows all involving video games in some way: “Suspicious Package,” “Adventure Quest” and “Thank You But Our Princess Is In Another Castle.” It seemed only logical to create a mini-festival to promote all three, and it was such a success last year that everyone at The Brick agreed we should make it an annual event. We’re happy to return with even more shows and events for everyone to enjoy.

“Theater of the Arcade” uses arcade classics like “Donkey Kong” and “Pac-Man” as a base but the games really had little story, save for the one happening to the player as he or she progressed. Do you feel like video games have stories that can be passed down from generation to generation?

GA: It’s really been fascinating directing “Theater of the Arcade” — Jeff Lewonczyk has done an amazing job recasting these plots as classic dramas, and I’m constantly amazed how well they actually play out. I think the scripts are very funny, but are actually also quite touching in many places, unexpectedly so. We’re sticking with classic old-school games, so the plots are a lot more simple than, say, “Heavy Rain” or the recent “Final Fantasy” titles, but I think they’ll appeal to gamers of many generations.

07092010_ModalKombat.jpgDavid, it seems like “Modal Kombat” could be a way to settle a lot of arguments about which guitar god is actually better. Where did this idea start?

David Hindman: The beginnings of this project have their roots at the Yale School of Music, where both Evan and I were graduate students in classical guitar. I used to go to Evan’s apartment and play old-school video games on his PowerBook, which kind of planted the seeds for “Modal Kombat.” After I enrolled in NYU’s telecommunications program to get another masters degree, I took a class called “Hacking Everyday Objects.” I took apart a video game controller, and figured out that I could rewire it to respond to MIDI commands. The rest is, as they say, historical non-fiction.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.