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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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