“Kapow-i GoGo” at the PIT – Interview with Mike Axelrod

Photo Credit - Eleanor Philips

Photo Credit – Eleanor Philips

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.

Mike Axelrod plays Hicc-up GoGo, Kapow-i GoGo’s 32-year-old “kid brother.” His character starts off as happy-go-lucky and a bit naive, but out of all of the characters in the show, he goes through one of the biggest transformations from beginning to end. In our conversation, he talks about Hicc-up’s character journey, anime becoming more mainstream, and that time he introduced his high school to the joys of drag.

Tell me about yourself and how you got interested in acting and theater. What was the first show you remember seeing on-stage, and were there any actors or shows that really influenced you creatively?

The first show I remember seeing was a clown show called Fool Moon, starring Bill Irwin. I must have been 5 or 6. I remember it being funny, wild and full of physical comedy, and after the show, I imitated Bill Irwin’s performance from beginning to end for my parents (quite badly, I’m sure). That’s when THEY knew I would be an actor.

I didn’t perform seriously until high school, when I found it was a way to break out of my shyness and express myself. I did a lot of Shakespeare, although my favorite role was Alice in The Brady Bunch! We adapted an episode for the stage…I exposed many of my high school to drag for the first time, something I’m still proud of.

How did you first get involved with Kapow-i GoGo?

I happened to be in the #serials@theflea group Matt was in at the time, and he asked the group if we would be interested in a play parodying anime and video games. As a huge anime fan, I was of course for it! Matt wrote me an amazing character, and I played Hicc-up all through the many episodes we had. When I heard we were going to be doing it at the PIT, I was so happy to be reprising my favorite role of all time, and what new things we could explore in this new iteration.

Photo Credit - Anya Gibian

Photo Credit – Anya Gibian

For people who haven’t seen the show yet, what is Kapow-i GoGo, and what role does your character Hicc-up GoGo play in the story?

Kapow-i is, at its core, a story about a girl growing up and realizing her dream of becoming the world’s greatest fighter. Along the way, she meets many characters who help or hinder her, and she figures out what being a fighter really means. Throw in some amazing comedic writing, anime, video game and cartoon references galore and some first rate talent, you’ve got four(ish) hours of theater gold.

Hicc-up is Kapow-i’s 32-year-old brother, who starts off as a happy-go-lucky, annoying younger brother type, but over the course of the story faces his own challenges and missteps. His and Kapow-i’s relationship is one of the core relationships of the show, which we follow from beginning to the very end. Hicc-up is a foil to Kapow-i, and you get to see these two grow up in wildly different ways.  I think a big draw in the story is what happens between these two. He also gets great gags and reveals, which are so much fun to play!

Hicc-up GoGo has this massive transformation in the show, from this goofy brother to a character who is quite dangerous. Is it more fun to play good or evil Hicc-up, and what do you enjoy most about Hicc-up as a character?

I love playing both, honestly. It’s a treat to play essentially a naive kid, who gets excited about literally everything. And being terrible at fighting is so fun! Evil Hicc-up is just so over the top it’s impossible not to love. Matt, Kristin and Joel really let me go as far as I wanted to with my villainy, and having that freedom is rare and special. There are so many great hammy anime villains who I took a lot of inspiration from. So it’s a great contrast I get to play with, and every time we do it, I try to find something new to add.

I’ve seen the show twice now, and I am amazed at the stamina it takes for these marathons. What is the rehearsal process like for the show, and what is the most challenging part of performing a 4+ hour show?

I really had to discipline myself for the marathons, because there is so much to pre-set and remember to do. Rehearsal was LOTS of logistical problem solving, along with fun character exploration. We had long rehearsals out of necessity, but since the show is so fast paced and fun, the rehearsals would fly by.

The most challenging part is remembering what prop I need to bring out next! One time I was putting in hair dye and missed my cue to bring out a fake bush, and was beyond mortified. Luckily, Eliza (Princess Cloudberry) rushed to the rescue, so now before each show, I study my cues hours before we go on!

Kapow-i GoGo is heavily based on anime, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. What were some of your favorite video games and shows growing up, and as a kid, did you have a Saturday morning cartoon routine?

Oh man. I was and am an anime fanboy. My first shows were Sailor Moon and Pokemon, then I graduated to stuff like Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion. I love that anime can be anywhere, and can do absolutely anything. I also liked how dark the shows could get, even supposed “kids” shows. I mean, Ash in Pokemon died in an episode! And he was threatened by men with guns many times! I loved the darker aspects these shows could delve into. There are so many things I’ve stolen and put into my performance as Hicc-up, from physicalities to evil laughs, it’s been fun to watch old shows I liked and go, “Ooo, that’s good, I’m using that!”

With that, I’ve played all of the Final Fantasy games except 2. Nerd alert, to the extreme.

I don’t remember a routine exactly, but I would watch Toonami whenever I got home from school. I remember in middle school I brought some friends home and turned on some anime that I normally watched. They turned up their noses and thought I was lame for liking kiddie cartoons. Although I wouldn’t call anime mainstream, it’s way more accepted and liked now than when I was a kid. So jokes on them!

Photo Credit - Anya Gibian

Photo Credit – Anya Gibian

Kapow-i GoGo starts out so sweet and nostalgic with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. By the end, though, it goes to some really dark places, and the line between good guys and bad guys is a bit more complicated. Are audiences surprised by this, or do you think the conventions of anime and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer have prepared them for it?

I think people are surprised, just because it starts off at that extreme bright and happy place, but suddenly we shift into the dark stuff and people gasp. But they love it, they love the surprise of it and how it keeps everyone guessing about where the story will go next. I think shows like Buffy took a while to get to that darker place, whereas we get there relatively quickly. And we shift back and forth in a seamless way, thanks to Matt’s writing.

Finally, tell me why people should come see the Kapow-i GoGo marathon at the Peoples Improv Theater on June 20!

I guarantee you won’t have more fun at the theater. The people involved are so dedicated, passionate and talented. I haven’t worked with as strong a cast as this one ever. We succeed because we want to support each other, and you know when we’re still laughing at each other’s jokes backstage after 5 months, we’re doing something right. You’ll cry sometimes, but you’ll always be laughing, and even if you’re not an anime or video game fan, there’s an original story here you’ll be impressed by.

Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?

Go to MichaelAxelrod.com for all updates and fun!

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Lightning Round!

The zombie apocalypse has hit the Capital! Who will you bring along to take out the walkers, Blade Gunblade or Princess Cloudberry?

Princess Cloudberry

Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch?

Lucky Charms

You’ve freed the magical Hydra! Do you wish for unlimited wealth or superhuman strength?

Unlimited Wealth

“F—, Marry, Kill”: Xar Xar Zuu, Treeleaf, and General President Thunderbolt

So hard!  Ummm…f— XarXar, marry General President Thunderbolt and kill Treeleaf.

Do you prefer your heroes bright and shiny or dark and brooding?

Brooding, all the way

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