On June 20, the Kapow-i GoGo marathon will be back again at the Peoples Improv Theater. Tickets are on sale now for $30 and available for purchase at the door or online here. I had the chance to sit down with some of the cast and creative team to discuss this unique show and how it came together. Leading up to the marathon, I will be sharing those interviews here.
Jeff Ronan describes himself as “a big fan of weirdos.” This may explain how he ended up playing the role of King Cloudberry, the well-intentioned but rather idiotic ruler of the world in Kapow-i GoGo. King Cloudberry also happens to be a turtle who somehow has a human daughter. Go figure! In our conversation, he talks about his much-discussed turtle walk, why ReBoot was the best, and the one cast member he loves to piss off.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got into acting and theater in the first place.
So my name is Jeff Ronan. I’m originally from New Jersey. I was very introverted growing up, so I kind of stumbled into acting as like the after-school drama program. There was a list of things, and my parents said, “You have to pick one of these things,” and I said, “Ahhhh…drama club.” And I really took to it and it was a really great way when I was young and shy and didn’t want to talk to people to be like, oh, I can talk to you as someone completely different. The more I got older, in high school getting a slightly larger community of actors, people that actually want to do this career, and especially college, it was like, oh, great, I actually have a people, other artistic weirdos that I can fit in with. That’s kind of how I first really got into acting.
Do you remember the first show you ever saw on stage?
The first show I ever saw on stage, I don’t. The first Broadway show I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera. I think I was in fourth grade, and that was my Christmas gift from my parents, because we’re in Jersey, so it’s really easy for me to catch a train to the city to be exposed to all that New York has to offer, which was really great.
Were there any actors or shows that really influenced you creatively?
Oh, man. You know, as I was getting into acting, I was still into cartoons and stuff, which helps with the Kapow-i, but I didn’t really pull from it in terms of acting. I mean, I’m really a big movie nerd, so as I was getting into high school, I was really like just trying to see as much as I could and trying to see classic films. Like everything by Hitchcock and Casablanca, and I’m a big Gary Oldman fan and Christopher Walken.
I’m a big fan of weirdos. Weird actors like Tim Roth, Willem Dafoe, trying to pull from them –
Yeah, the character actors that aren’t just on the outskirts but like still manage to do like lead roles. You know, we can have a weird person as our lead in this, because there are weird people in life! They’re not always supporting characters or extras.
How did you first get involved with the show?
So I’m a member of the Bats at the Flea Theater. I was a member, I just left, and so I was a part of the original serial for Kapow-i GoGo. When Kapow-i started, I was actually writing another serial at the same time, so we were very briefly competitors for a second, because the way Serials works is that you vote on your favorite, they come back, and the least amount of votes get cut. When my show was done, I took a break from Serials, and then when we came back, we had a long hiatus because the show they were doing at the Flea, Mysteries, was six hours long, so nothing else could be done. It was the only thing that was there.
Serials was gone for like six, seven months, something very long, and so when it finally came back, I – because the way Serials works, you rehearse depending on the times. Whatever time you can rehearse for Serials, that’s the group you can be in, and I was like, “I can rehearse this time or the time Kapow-i rehearses.” So I just asked Matt Cox, “If I were to sign up for your group, do you have anything for me?” And he was like “Oh! Uhhhh, yeaaaaaah. Uhh, I got two ideas, you can sign up.” Which then became me as King Cloudberry, which I did for three episodes of the Serials and was a lot of fun.
When he was crafting this for the PIT, he originally was like, “So don’t be offended, I’m probably not going to reach out to you because we have too many actors, and I want to try to get as few people as possible to play multiple roles.” And then he called me a week later and was like, “I take it all back!” And so I was back in the fray.
I’ve seen the show twice now – the marathon twice. I’m just amazed at the stamina you guys have with this show. What’s the rehearsal process like?
I mean, there’s no more rehearsal anymore. Like, it’s really just one brush-up, the marathon, and we – it’s hard. I give a lot of props to Keola, to Asia, to Amy Jo, and I think that’s the only people who weren’t involved in it at Serials. Everyone else was in it when we did it at the Flea, so we could still like, Parts 1 and 2 are roughly what the serial was, and Part 3 is completely new. But Parts 1 and 2 are still, they are very expanded. At Serials, each episode was like twelve minutes long, and there were eight of them, and in this, one episode is like twenty-three minutes long. So roughly, it would be like four episodes of Kapow-i equals the entirety of Serials.
Matt has like tripled the amount of material that he has written. So people like Maddy who plays Kapow-i and Hank who plays Master Masterwhiskies and Mike who plays Hicc-up, like they at least had a ground base to jump off of, whereas like the new people were coming in with not enough time, not enough time to rehearse what is essentially a four and a half hour marathon. So the process was hit the ground running. Make big, crazy choices, and if it’s the wrong direction, we’ll just redirect it in the right way. There was no room for like, playing around, the thing is we’re all playing around. I think that’s why the piece works, that all of us love to play with each other.
When you’re in the midst of actually performing one of these marathons, what is the most challenging thing for you?
See, I have gaps. I come in during the last episode of Part 1, I’m gone before the end of Part 2, and then I’m done. I’m not in Part 3 at all. It’s a lot easier for me. The hardest part for me having to do anything on the ground because my costume involves this turtle shell that is actually built from this giant fruit bowl that is then duct taped, so it’s not hard at all. It’s a very thin bowl, so it’s already cracking as we speak. Everything in the show is risking of like breaking apart at any second.
The last marathon, I kept thinking, with Kapow-i GoGo’s sword, is that thing going to break?
Yeah, well, that’s, when you build your props out of cardboard and duct tape, it’s a great aesthetic, but it’s also everything’s only made out of cardboard and duct tape. We always need more cardboard and duct tape to patch things up, but it’s scrappy and it goes with the show. It’s a scrappy show.
It’s kind of a similar aesthetic to cosplay.
Both times when I’ve seen the show – the first time that I went, I took my husband. Second time, I brought a friend. Both of them had almost the same comment about your character, King Cloudberry. They said, “I have never seen someone turtle that much!”
(Laughs) In Serials, that was my exact costume except the turtle shell, and I think I had a big, bushy mustache, but then that like, I hated the mustache, so I asked if we could just get rid of it for this. But he always had this little turtle walk, and it’s just like, well, thinking of video games. Because I’ve never been big into anime, but I was very into video games and comic books. I was thinking of like Mario and little turtle guys. I don’t actually know the names. I was a Playstation kid growing up.
Also, I feel like the kings in animated shows are always very tiny. Very tiny kings, and I think that’s just the joke, this little tiny king shouting. So I thought, well, I’m not that tiny, so I just wanted to try to make myself this tiny little turtle. So they said, “Let’s go all the way and give you an actual turtle shell for the PIT version.” But I appreciate that. The biggest comment that I get is, “I love your little turtle, your little turtle walks.”
With the whole thing that these kings are always small, and their advisor is always someone that is supremely evil.
Right, the sultan in Aladdin! King Cloudberry is kind of like a cross between the sultan in Aladdin, Fozzie Bear, and any ineffectual king in pop culture is King Cloudberry. He’s like the trusting – which is so funny because it is like, oh, he’s so funny because he’s an idiot. He’s so charming, but he’s also the ruler of the world, and he’s someone who is careless. He’s charming, but his carelessness does cause a lot of problems in the world. If you actually clock it, you’re like, “Oh yeah, if he was actually a good ruler and paying attention he’d know he’s surrounded by evil people and be more aware of this.”
Or the moment where it’s like, “Oh, now Kapow-i GoGo is a terrorist.”
Right! He’s very committed, full commitment to whatever pops into his head, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
What do you enjoy most about playing the character, and do you have a favorite moment or scene in the show?
Oh, I really just enjoy all my scenes with Colin, who plays General President Thunderbolt because I think it is the most interesting dynamic of having someone – because it is like Jafar and the sultan, it really is. It’s just kind of fun to piss Colin off, in the sense of not understanding anything he is saying and just being like, “Ohhh, you mean THIS completely different thing!” Any time I can make him angry.
I got to know Colin because he was playing Jesus in The Mysteries at the Flea. It was an adaptation of the York Mystery Plays which is pretty much the Bible, so it’s like from the fall of Lucifer through Jesus through the resurrection, all the way to Judgement Day, so it’s six hours long and like 30 different playwrights, and so he was Jesus. He doesn’t come in until Act Two, but he’s in like all of Act Two and most of Act Three, and he’s Jesus. It was a beautiful performance, so then that we got him to muck about with us is really funny to me. So I just think it’s really fun to be playing with like, “You just played Jesus, and now you’re this over-the-top evil, power-hungry mad man.” So those are my favorite scenes to play, and they are always so stupid. It’s always so stupid, me and him.
If you could swap parts with any of your cast members, who would you pick and why.
Oh, man. Umm, probably Madame Blood. I’d swap parts with Amy Jo, because I’ve said if, you know, we’ve not actually gotten to the point where anyone couldn’t be there for the marathon, but we’re going to get to that point. Somebody’s gonna get a gig out of town, something’s gonna happen, and we’re like, well, what are we gonna do then? If we lose Maddy, then we’re all screwed because that’s so much, but what makes the most sense if Amy couldn’t be there? Or if I couldn’t be there? We should be each other’s covers because we have no crisscross, and also because I think it would be really funny. I’d have a lot of fun being this power-hungry madame.
Because it’s kind of the opposite of your character, because you’re a character with all this power.
Right! I mean, I want to be one of the villains, and I think out of the villains, that’s the most fun. Who doesn’t love a good cloak?
Exactly! So, Kapow-I GoGo is based heavily on anime, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. What were some of your favorite video games or TV shows growing up, and did you have a Saturday morning routine?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, in video games, as I said, I was a Playstation kid, so right off the bat, my first video game was Crash Bandicoot. All the Crash Bandicoot games on the Playstation 2, Spyro the Dragon, like all of the fun platformers, Jak and Daxter, stuff like that. And for shows, I was a big fan of Freakazoid! and any Looney Tunes. I remember the big TGIF, the Thank God Its Friday, the night before, and here’s a special sneak peek of our new cartoon tomorrow, which was ReBoot.
I’m still a huge fan of ReBoot and still every now and then Google them, and they were trying to do a new version. And like 2 years ago, they had like a teaser trailer even for it, which it still is in turn-around, but I remember the day before, they were like, “Here’s the first episode!” and seeing like the first episode of ReBoot that Saturday morning and having my mind blown. Because, you know, it’s the first computer-animated cartoon, and I just thought it was so fun and inventive. And I’ve always, I really clicked into that one.
And with ReBoot, once again a show that starts out kind of light-hearted and gets really dark by the end.
Well, because it started on ABC, and ABC was constantly like, “This is too dark,” and by the end of season 2, that’s when they were like, we want to get darker. And season 2 ends with Bob getting thrown, like lost in the web and Megabyte is winning, and everything is terrible. But they knew at that point that ABC was canceling them, so they also have a reference to Megabyte’s hench-cars or whatever are called the ABCs or something like that. “The ABCs, they’re turning on us! Treacherous dogs!” And then they got picked up by YTV in Canada for season 3 where they are finally able to just be as dark as they wanted to. That’s why season 3 is so much darker. It was also like four years after they had already been canceled, so it was like a big break before it came back. But yeah, it does also fall in line with Kapow-i. Kapow-i is just so well-structured in that Part 1 is very Pokemon and very innocent, and Part 2, you’re getting into more seriousness, and Part 3 is just full-blown Akira.
Tell me why people should come see the June 20 marathon of Kapow-i GoGo at the Peoples Improv Theater.
You should come see the June 20 marathon at the PIT, even if you’ve already seen the marathon. You should come see it because there is nothing else like it. It’s full-blown geek theater, and there are some people like the Vampire Cowboys that have been carrying this torch. But right now, this is the only place that you’re going to be able to have the equivalent of a full Saturday morning’s worth of cartoons, where you’re binge-watching seasons of epic geek theater, and bang for your buck, you’re not going to get anything else like it.
Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
The zombie apocalypse has hit the Capital! Who will you bring along to take out the walkers, Blade Gunblade or General President Thunderbolt?
Gummy bears or sour gummy worms?
Mario or Sonic?
Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?
Oh, Moo-bats! Whiskers is a jerk!
“F— Marry Kill”: General President Thunderbolt, Madame Blood, Hicc-up GoGo
Oh, man. Well, I’m dating Madame Blood in real life, so marry Madame Blood. Hicc-up GoGo is a spry little creature, so f— Hicc-up GoGo and kill General President Thunderbolt. What can I say? Hicc-up is a fan favorite! We should create #TeamHiccup.