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Babycastles Takes Manhattan

Babycastles Takes Manhattan (photo)

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It’s been almost two months since the minds behind Babycastles inaugurated their residency just a few blocks from Grand Central Station. The space comes courtesy of Chashama, an organization that sets up artists in empty real-estate locations like retail storefronts or office spaces. Previously, Babycastles lived at the Silent Barn music venue in Rudgewood, Queens. You didn’t need a password but their space at Silent Barn felt like a video game speakeasy. Finding yourself at the nondescript metal door and going down to the basement illuminated by screenlight meant you now belonged to a secret society of people privy to a bubbling, fertile cultural movement.

11292010_Babycastles_Manhattan_3a.jpgStill, the bigger, splashier Midtown East locale required a change in approach, both in terms of what the show and how they show it. Syed Salahuddin, one of the founders of Babycastles, offered that “we could do whatever the f**k we wanted at Silent Barn. That crowd was more acclimated to trying out new things, even if they didn’t play video games.” He continued with the observation that “here [at Chashama, we need to have things that are more palatable. We want to be people’s introduction to indie games.”

The latest exhibition–curated by Independent Games Festival chairman Brandon Boyer–featured the biggest names yet, with indie success stories “Super Meat Boy,” “Continuity” and “Enviro-Bear 2000” playable in custom-made cabinets. Saturday night saw a closing party for the exhibition, with musical performances by chiptune artists Starscream, Neil Voss and Knife City. Salahuddin says that openings have been great, but ordinary weekdays have been a mixed bag: “Midtown is an alien world for us and it’s a little difficult to get people from Brooklyn to come out.”

However, they have managed to draw a curious cubicle-dweller crowd: “People wander in during their lunch breaks, because nothing cool or cultural happens in this part of the city. They’ve been super-appreciative.” So has Chashama, who have extended the Babycastles residency through to the end of January. The pace of exhibitions has doubled in the new space, up to two showcases a month. A January show will feature the work of Eddo Stern, who helped curate Fantastic Arcade at the 2010 Fantastic Fest and is also known for “Tekken Torture Tournament.”

Speaking of upcoming exhibitions, Eric Zimmerman and Nathalie Pozzi have also created “Flatlands,” a new site-specific work for the space that Zimmerman described as a “conversational” game about aesthetic discourse. The pair plan to re-work the feel of the venue a little bit as Pozzi described the look of the non-digital game as more somber interspersed with bursts of color. Zimmerman didn’t get in specifics but said that playing “Flatlands” involves old-school board games from the 1980s and that which board you choose will in itself be a move.

11292010_Babycastles_Manhattan_6a.jpgAsked why Babycastles’ Manhattan space is important, Zimmerman answered by noting, “As digital games enter the cultural pantheon alongside literature, film and other media, it’s important to create context for their distribution and experience beyond a box on a shelf or a slot on a Xbox Live Arcade release schedule. There has to be a curated kind of space and Babycastles is both a symptom and a cause of the rise of indie games.”

Brandon Boyer agrees, adding hat Babycastles is part of a larger movement happening in many cities. “Toronto has its Torontron and Seattle, Austin are trying to set up similar things. Places like this take everything back to the 1980s, when there still were communal spaces for playing games together,” he says.

The IGF chairman chose these seven games because he knew they would show well “in a noisy space with drunk people.” “Super Meat Boy” and “Continuity” are already playable in the wild, but Boyer also included highly anticipated games that aren’t out yet like “Monaco” and “Tuning.”

Rumors of a New Year’s Eve party ran through the room on Saturday night and Salahuddin wouldn’t say if such a thing was in the works. I asked him if he and his partners would consider another run in Manhattan once this residency ended, but he answered that “After this, we go to sleep and die.”

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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