“Kapow-i GoGo” at the PIT – Interview with Keola Simpson

Andy Miller, Keola Simpson, Tara Pacheco

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.

Unlike many of his co-stars, Keola Simpson did not grow up on a steady diet of anime, comic books, or video games. His first experiences on-stage were in his mother’s Polynesian dance show. When he first got to college, he enrolled in a few theater classes, and it wasn’t out of a desire to get on-stage but because he wanted to meet girls. In our conversation, he talks about playing two of the show’s father figures, the scene that got the whole cast choked up, and why everyone needs to bring a buddy to Saturday’s Kapow-i GoGo marathon.

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

My mom had her own touring Polynesian dance revue show that toured through Canada for a little over five years that I was a part of. That’s where I saw it first, anything performance-wise, and I got thrown on-stage at a young age. During those years, that was the start of it. Later on in college, I was looking for a major, and when I asked in class what classes have a lot of girls in them, somebody said, “You should take a theater class. It’s mostly girls and hardly any straight guys,” so I immediately signed up for two acting classes and one other theater class. That’s essentially how it started.

Do you remember the first show that you saw?

Yeah, I got thrown on the crew for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and instantly, I was taken aback by the skill that a lot of these people had. I remember looking at two main guys who were both sharing the role of Finch, and I remember saying, “I’m going to learn how to do that.” And then later on that semester, I was in a show, and I had maybe a line, and I could hardly remember it, and I would practice it over and over. It really came from the competitiveness of me seeing those two guys play that part and saying, “Okay, I’m going to do that.”

Kapow-i GoGo - Keola Simpson, Madeleine Bundy, Hank Lin

For people who haven’t seen the show yet, how would you sum up Kapow-i GoGo?

It is a journey of a very kind girl who has a very good heart but with high ambition, too, to go with that heart. That’s essentially what it is, it’s the small guy winning.

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

Every year in Hawaii when I go home for Christmas, I make new goals for the year, and this year for 2015, it was to just say yes to everything. I mean, if you can’t do it because of scheduling, fine, but find a way to just say yes. Stephen Stout e-mailed me, he’s a friend, and he said, “Hey, do you want to do this?” I didn’t even read what he was offering, I just said yes. That’s how it happened.

In the show, you play a lot of characters including Treehorn and the Mysterious Man. I was looking at the actual program, and after a while, it just says “Others.” Could you give a quick rundown of all the characters you play and how they fit into the story?

Yeah, I play Swiftfist GoGo, who is the father of Kapow-i GoGo and a legendary fighter that has gone missing. He is disguised as the Mysterious Man for much of Part 1, only to reveal himself later as Swiftfist GoGo. Also, Chief Treehorn, both those characters are father figures in the lives of Kapow-i GoGo or others in the show. I’m sure someone else in the cast could have played that too, but that’s how it ended up, I play the male father figure often. As far as the Others go, I like to describe those people as people who die like 14 times because I think that’s how many times I get killed as the Others.

2012-01-01 00.00.00-135

14 times? Wow.

I just get killed constantly.

Do you guys actually have a running count of who gets killed the most in the show?

We don’t know because it’s actually exhausting. A lot of what you see on-stage isn’t what’s happening backstage. We’re running around constantly and getting set up to get killed again. Somebody has to die, it’s whoever is geographically in the right location. Can they clock out for a second to get killed and run back and change?

Could you talk a little bit about some of the challenges of playing all these different characters? I know you said they are very similar, as far as being father figures.

You know, the first thing you have to do is not place any kind of judgment on what that person is and just look at where they fall in line with the story. This is very much like music, and everybody plays a different instrument, and you need to know what instrument you’re playing and how you fit into the story. Once you can isolate those things down, everything will work out. We can’t all be the saxophone.

As much as we want to!

Right, we all get our turn on the saxophone, but we can’t all be playing it all at the same time.

Photo Credit - Anya Gibian

Photo Credit – Anya Gibian

I’ve seen the show twice now, and obviously, I absolutely love it. It blows me away, the stamina it takes for these marathons. What was the rehearsal process like for a 4+ hour show?

The rehearsal process was long, it was grueling, it was winter. There was a lot of making things up, having it fall flat, trying something different, getting new pages. We were rehearsing a lot through the months of January and February. It was a very full-time job at that point.

Since we got the show put together for the marathon, we actually stopped rehearsing, and now we just get together to run through the show and realize, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that was there. Let’s try that.” But during the rehearsal process, it was very grueling. It took a lot of commitment from a lot of people. I don’t know how everybody did it. There was a lot of illness floating around, that was being shared amongst people. You know, you’re in cramped spaces, so there are attitudes that come along with it, but that’s part of being in the theater.

You mentioned the rewriting part of it. Were the actors contributing in this process, or was it just Matt trying things out?

It’s the combination of both. Matt is very good at putting down a blank page in front of you, even though it’s written, and see how you fall into his voice, and this is from my point of view. I’m not sure how it works for everyone else, but you will try things under his voice, and when things work, they really work.

He’s very gifted with rhythms, but if it’s not working for you, he will find a way to adjust and see what you’re doing. Some people take liberties with things, and if he likes it, he likes it. He says, “Yeah, do that,” or, “Don’t do that.” That was a lot of it. My contribution to his script was probably very low. With others, it’s different. Others are very gifted when it comes to being able to make things up and try them out, see if they work.

I wanted to talk about the character of Treehorn because I really love that character. Most of the characters of Kapow-i GoGo are very big and loud and colorful, and Treehorn is very stoic, and you have this great deadpan delivery with his lines. How much of that characterization came from the original script and how much came from playing around with the character during the rehearsal process?

If I remember, the first day I read Treehorn, I had no idea I was going to play Treehorn, so when I was given the script, I didn’t know what was going on. What came out was the exact opposite of what was written. What was written was this over-the-top, gung-ho kind of guy, and when the page was thrown in my hands so quickly, I actually went into this reserved state of, “I’m just going to muddle words out,” and that ended up becoming more and more the role, and it definitely wasn’t what he intended, but if Matt liked it, Matt was like, “Yeah, just go. Just keep going.”

Here is the realistic part about Treehorn, which relates to any of the parts I play and sometimes other characters in the show too. There is only so much room on the stage for too many helium balloons. Somebody has to hold them, or else they’re just going to all go all over the place, and for Treehorn, he happens to be the one guy on stage at that particular time that is going to be a little bit of a weight to the room. And if you watch the whole marathon, there is somebody in every scene, anchoring it down, at any given time. In Treehorn’s case, he’s the one.

Photo Credit - Eleanor Philips

Photo Credit – Eleanor Philips

Talking about the evolution of the show, episodes 1-3 compared to 7-9, it goes from this upbeat, happy, light-hearted show to something that is much darker, and wow, characters are getting killed or getting eyes blown out. Do you find that audiences are surprised by the shift in the tone throughout the show?

I don’t know if it’s surprise. I’m very familiar with Part 1 and how the audience feels because we’ve done it a lot, but when Part 2 and Part 3 started coming out, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go because it is, there is much more subtlety to it, and there are many more layers to it. In Part 1, it’s campy. It’s an old video game essentially. You know, it is poor graphics, and your imagination has to do a lot of the story work for you. In Part 2 and 3, it gets more layered, and I started watching from backstage through the curtain to see audience’s reactions. So I think there has to be surprise there.

I remember when we first did Part 3, I forget which character was dying, I took a peek out into the audience, and I saw a guy who was sitting by himself, or he wasn’t with anyone. He was sitting amongst strangers, and he kind of started choking up, and he looked to his left and to his right, saw that nobody was looking at him, and then wiped some tears away. And it’s weird that people are crying in a theater, especially Kapow-i GoGo, and it’s happening every single night. Any time you get a cry like that, they were probably surprised that they cared about somebody, especially something as outrageous as Kapow-i GoGo.

Yeah, and maybe that surprise is part of it, that it’s like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting to like this character, and I feel terrible for what is happening to her.” I mean, a similar thing happened to me when I saw Heathers the Musical. I don’t know if you ever saw it, and I did not expect it, but about halfway through the second half, there is a song that just hits you in the gut, and I was like, “Wait, I came to see Heathers! This is a comedy!” So maybe it’s like that with Kapow-i GoGo, and they see the first few episodes, and it’s what they expect the whole way through.

We were surprised, because I know when (Spoilers! Highlight text to reveal) one-half of Team Trouble dies, (End spoiler) and we all know that, but the first day we applied music to it, we were all kind of either back-stage or on-stage or near the vicinity, and all of a sudden, we’re like, “Wait a minute, I feel like crying right now, even though I know how this story ends.” So when it surprised us, it became pretty obvious that it was time to start watching the audience to see how they’re taking it.

Which part would you say is your favorite in the show?

There are two parts – well, it’s the same thing, but it happens in Part 1 and Part 2 – when Kapow-i discovers that she likes Twig, when she’s trying to articulate how she is feeling and doesn’t have the vocabulary yet to describe it. That, and when she really likes Princess Cloudberry, too. Both times, you’re watching somebody have these feelings and try to figure them out, and it ends up that they are both about a girl, which never even crossed my mind until well after we opened the play and people were talking about it. “Oh, it’s like a normal relationship, they just happen to be girls.” And I was like, “They are?” And I realized, oh yeah, they are both girls. Never even thought about it.

Photo Credit - Eleanor Philips

Photo Credit – Eleanor Philips

And it seems like when it comes to showing gay characters in shows, I don’t think theater has quite gotten to the point where it’s just – a lot of shows about LGBT issues tend to be about coming out or being accepted by society, and it’s not so much that they just happen to be gay. That’s a way that Kapow-i GoGo is very different in that sense. It’s just there, and that’s the way it is, and we move on!

Yeah, I don’t think, you’ll have to ask Matt, but I don’t think he had any intent of making a point or anything. It just happened to be. It didn’t even matter, it just happened that two girls were playing these parts.

And I have trouble deciding which one I like better with Kapow-i GoGo, Twig or Princess Cloudberry. I love Princess Cloudberry, though.

Isn’t she the best?

Photo Credit - Eleanor Philips

Photo Credit – Eleanor Philips

She is adorable! She’s just the cutest character, I absolutely love her.

There is nothing better than walking into a tense rehearsal or performance and seeing Eliza Simpson in the room. You’re just like, “Oh, not that angry anymore!”

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

I am the opposite of everyone in our cast. I didn’t do any of that. I had cartoons that I liked. I mean, Voltron, and I played Zelda and couldn’t finish it, but that’s about it. I watched sports and watched wrestling and all of that. They wanted me to read this mega-packet that Evan Maltby put together on the show, and when I say a mega-packet, he put together like footage and stuff for us to all watch…and I kind of made the decision early on that I wasn’t going to look at any of that. I was just going to look at this as a storytelling event, like we would any play, and in the end, see how it comes out, see if I’m even close to what the intentions were. But sorry, Evan!

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

People who like this stuff, they’re going to come and watch it, and I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, this show is not for you. This show is for you to bring someone else, somebody who normally wouldn’t go to the theater, somebody that normally wouldn’t see this kind of show. This is your perfect opportunity to let them into your world. This show is actually for them. They don’t know it yet, you don’t know it yet, but yeah, we made it, and we know you like it, and you’re going to come and have the greatest time of your life, and I guarantee you will have a better time if you bring somebody to this play who normally wouldn’t go to the theater. I guarantee it.

Photo Credit - Anya Gibian

Photo Credit – Anya Gibian

Lightning Round!

Where would you rather live, the Capital or the Forest?

As long as there is a body of water near it, the Forest.

Fruit Loops or Captain Crunch?

Fruit Loops

Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?

Whiskers the Fighting Cat, most definitely.

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

Oh, neither. I want none of it, but I’ll take the wealth if you’re forcing me.

Zombies have invaded the Capital! Who do you pick for your survival team, Blade Gunblade or General President Thunderbolt?

General President Thunderbolt. Nobody can touch him.

“F—, Marry, Kill”: Treeleaf, Hicc-up GoGo, and Mr. Smiles

Oh, my gosh. Umm, kill Mr. Smiles just because…kill Mr. Smiles. It makes everybody cry. Marry Treeleaf, and f— Hicc-up GoGo.

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