At the June 20 Kapow-i GoGo marathon, playwright Matt Cox announced that the show will be back at the Peoples Improv Theater in August. Prior to Saturday’s marathon, 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. Check out all of coverage of Kapow-i GoGo here.
Kristin McCarthy Parker admits that in college, she didn’t want to be a director, and the liberal arts program’s required directing class “terrified” her. Despite her initial trepidation, she discovered that she loved directing and had a particular passion for physically-demanding ensemble-based theater. In our conversation, she talks about the challenges of staging a four-hour play, keeping the cast happy and healthy, and emotionally grounding this unconventional comedy-fantasy saga.
Tell me about yourself and how you got interested in directing and theater.
So I was an actor originally in high school and college, and I had to take a directing class halfway through college because I was doing a liberal arts program, and I was terrified of it. I thought, “Oh, I’ll just do it and get it over with and never do it again,” and I actually really liked it. I had a professor who was the department chair and encouraged me to keep doing it. So I ended up directing a full-length show my senior year, and then from there, I did a directing dramaturgy internship the year after I graduated college up in Portland, Maine.
When I came to the city, I had friends who were in a theater company that was very collaboration-based. It was a bunch of designers and actors, and they didn’t have a director, so they brought me on-board to do their second full-length show. It was my first show in New York, and it just has gradually become more and more a thing that I do, and now I very much consider myself a director.
What was the first show you remember seeing on-stage?
Oh my gosh. It must have been something from childhood community theater. I remember seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat very early on. I grew up in New Hampshire and then moved to North Carolina, but I had a bunch of friends – I was probably in fourth grade – who were in that show. My parents bought me the soundtrack, and I would listen to it on repeat, which is now so funny looking back, but yeah, I drove my family crazy listening to that show. I remember that very distinctly.
Were there any other shows that you would say really influenced you creatively?
I mean, I see so much that I feel like there’s a lot that continues to influence my work and I get excited about. I’ve seen some stuff at Theatre for a New Audience recently that has been marvelous. Soho Rep’s An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins was incredible. Their Tamburlaine the Great was marvelous as well. I saw a show at St. Ann’s Warehouse a few months ago, Tristan & Yseult, that was beautiful. I really like very physically active, not necessarily super-linear, but very ensemble-based, exciting, theatrical productions. That’s sort of my wheelhouse, and it’s also Kapow-i as well.
I was chatting with Alex, and we were talking about Peter and the Starcatcher and these shows that are very much about the cast working together.
I never saw Peter and the Starcatcher, weirdly enough. I should have, but I didn’t get a chance to, but I did see Fiasco Theater’s Cymbeline, where everything sort of comes out of a trunk and it’s just what they’re doing with their bodies and faces. It’s really, really exciting to me.
How did you first get involved with Kapow-i GoGo?
I saw one episode of Kapow-i. It was the first Serials that I went to, and it was at Serials, but I had been working at the Flea Theater. I was an assistant director on The Mysteries, so I was working with a lot of the people in this group for the duration of that. When Kapow-i ended and this group was working on the next project in the Serials, they got a new director and a new writer, and they brought me on board to do that. So we ran all throughout the fall doing this piece called Cordelia Prospector, which was like a Western, dark sort of mystical revenge story, and it was really great working with that group.
So when they were taking Kapow-i GoGo to the PIT, I was also doing a show at the PIT, and they knew I would be a good fit with that group and had some knowledge of working at the PIT, so they needed another person on the creative team, so that’s how I got involved.
I’ve seen the marathon twice now, and I am really amazed at the stamina of the entire cast, and I’ve been asking everyone about the rehearsal process. From the director’s side, what is the rehearsal process like for you?
Oh my god, it was…yeah, it was insane. It happened very quickly, like I think within 2 weeks, we were rehearsing. Of course, rehearsal space is very expensive, so we were at my co-director’s apartment way out in Bushwick basically every single day, and suddenly, February and March were just gone, and I had spent most of my time doing Kapow-i.
But it was really wonderful because so many of the actors, of course, had been in the show at Serials, and so many of them were coming to rehearsals with this really strong sense of what the show was and who their characters were, and that was a lot of Part 1 and 2. For Part 3, when we started to layer in all these new things and these new characters, it was sort of a journey we got to go on together. I was playing catch-up for a little bit, but what I love about rehearsing with this group is they make such strong choices right off the bat. They dive right in, and it’s so delightful to get to direct them, because it means that a lot of what I’m doing is working on the specifics of how it comes to life on-stage as opposed to trying to pull things out of people. They come to play, which is a lot of fun.
What would you say is the most challenging part of putting together a show that is four hours long?
Making it all cohesive but different enough that it is a progression from Part 1 to Part 3. Obviously stylistically, they are all very different, but we need to track and have an emotional response to these characters and be invested in them every step of the way. So on the literary side, that was a big focus for us. For me specifically, making sure that it was visually exciting so that we continue to pull new tricks out of our bag, and as you saw, a lot, a lot of props. I mean, we kept sort of pulling out new tricks and making sure that everything continues to grow and develop. The fights get more sophisticated. It’s no small feat.
Along with that, when you’re directing a show like this, it is like needing to have an awareness of how people are doing, health-wise and attitude-wise. When we do one of these marathons, it is a full day, and it is exhausting. Being able to sort of help keep spirits up and keep people focused, and you know, it’s a fine balance of what needs to be done vs. taking care of people. It’s a challenge.
You talked about keeping the audience engaged, and the show has a lot of these characters that are very outlandish, and it is very funny, very colorful show, but it needs to also have characters that the audience cares about. Working with the cast, how did you keep that balance of that cartoony video game world but also creating characters the audiences can relate to?
It was finding the moments where we sort of drop in, the moments that in the marathon kind of take you by surprise, and suddenly you’re crying. Without giving too much away, when people die or those other things that hit you harder. I think in Part 2 and Part 3 especially, because you’ve been in this kooky comedy world, and all of a sudden, the violence gets more real, and the relationships have higher stakes. You know, Kapow-i really falls in love with the princess, and (Spoilers! Highlight text to reveal) then when she dies, (End spoiler) there is this whole sense of, “Oh my god, can this even happen in this world?” These people that you care about can go away. It’s about finding those little moments where you drop in, and I think it does a really good job of reminding you, “Oh, right, this is the emotional investment.” And then there are some parts that are just pure silly, but we like to find a balance between the two.
Obviously the show goes through quite a change from Part 1 to the end. The beginning is very sweet and nostalgic with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. By the end, though, it is a lot darker, and the line between good guys and bad guys is a bit more complicated. Do you find that audiences are shocked by this change in tone?
I think people, there are some things in Part 3 that I think people don’t expect, like with Team Trouble. That’s a big one, but I think that stylistically, it feels kind of a natural progression because we’re taking people who are familiar with these references at least from the media or like Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z and then bring some more sophisticated stuff in Part 2, up to what I think of as the modern dark anti-hero action figure characters of today, like the modern day Batman or even stuff like Cowboy Bebop. It starts to get really dark, and so I think you, as Kapow-i is growing up in the show, we’re sort of growing up along with her, and I think that feels good.
But yes, I do think there are some surprises! (laughs) And I hope that with episode 9, it is sort of a happy melding between that world of Part 3 that we’re in, which is much more dark, and sort of a throwback to the fun nostalgia of Part 1 because we get to finally bring all the characters together, and suddenly, they’re like the Avengers. They are the team extreme, going out to bring down the man, and it has a little bit more buoyant spirit, so we do try to bring it full circle and give people that satisfying ending that they want.
Actually, thinking about it right now, the show really does remind me of the progression of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where you have this very strong central female character that is a fighter, and as it goes on, it just keeps getting darker and worse for these characters.
You know what’s funny, I just started watching Buffy like 3 days ago because I finally got around to watching Firefly, which I hadn’t seen before.
Ohhh, Firefly is so good!
So now I’m going through all the Joss Whedon stuff, but I can tell you right now that yes, it’s very much like high school movie meets teenage vampire slayer, so I’m excited.
Out of all three parts, which is your personal favorite?
Oof, that is a tough question. I think it’s tough to say now, but I think as we were working on it, Part 2 felt like the most exciting because we were having to stretch our Part 1 to be so – like we kept saying, 2D, think like 2D. Like it’s very big and it’s very loud and colorful, and Part 2 is where we got to take that and sort of transition into some more grown-up stuff. And it’s also where we finally sink into that love story between Kapow-i and the princess. We get to meet the first real frightening villain, Blade Gunblade, and there’s so much exciting stuff happening between all these characters. It’s a really happy union, the dark and the fun, but now I do think that my favorite episode is probably 9, just because it is so satisfying.
We get to have all that fun with – I just love it when all of the characters sort of disregarded or pushed off to the side get to come back for a final moment of glory. That’s really, really fun to see, and by then, the audience is so invested and so excited to see what the ending is. It’s usually a riot in the theater.
Yeah, I love episode 9 because you get so many great pay-offs. And Tuxedo Gary and Team Trouble, it makes me so happy!
I know, I know! That might be, I mean, Matt has said that it is his singular favorite moment in the show, but I think it is one of my favorite moments and then the audience’s reaction when Gary says, “Face it, all I’m good for is causing trouble.” And then we just have that slow turn, and the audience eats it up. Yeah, it’s great.
Kapow-i GoGo is very much a celebration of video games, anime, and Saturday morning cartoons, but in some ways, it subverts those expectations. How did you balance giving the audience what they expect but also offering something new and different?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, what I see a lot of in theater that is riffing on something else that I think we don’t slide into is where it is just full-on parody, and it’s just exclusively poking fun at something, and that’s really not very exciting for me. What I think, as you said, we do a really good job of paying tribute to and paying homage to many of these things, but we do make it our own.
I think the subversion is coming through the character of Kapow-i GoGo herself. I mean, I’m not super into the gaming world, but I know there are a lot of issues with feminism and female representation in those communities. I think just immediately putting a woman front-and-center and not really making it a thing that we comment on or talk about.
And a gay woman!
Exactly, and that is the other thing I was going to say, that my other favorite part about that part of the story is that it is never treated as “other” or weird that she is gay. It just is what it is, and no one feels the need to comment on it, which I think is subversive in and of itself.
Even within theater, because so much theater that is about LGBT characters tends to fall into “overcoming” or-
It’s an identity crisis.
Yeah, and this is all about feelings and how those feelings make you act.
“You smell like cookies.”
Yes, yes, exactly.
You said that you’re not really into video games, but as far as Saturday morning cartoons, did you have a Saturday morning routine growing up?
Sort of. I was one of those kids that – the reason why I never really got into video games is because we weren’t allowed to have them. I think at some point in high school, maybe I acquired a game SNES and got Super Mario World, but in my childhood at least, we didn’t have any of that, and I was limited to an hour of TV on the weekends and not allowed to watch it during the week.
I do remember, though, I was always the kid who woke up at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning, sneaking downstairs and watching Rescue Rangers or whatever really early in the morning before I was supposed to. I think I was watching a bit more of the Nickelodeon cartoons, like Doug and Rugrats and Hey Arnold and all that stuff growing up, and I was sort of immune to super heroes and the comic book world, which is so funny because now when I go see movies, I am such a super hero, action-adventure movie junkie. It’s really my favorite, and I think it’s because I get so much of that dramatic quota filled up in the theatre that when I go to the movies, I just want to be blown out of the water with spectacle and that sort of thing. I’m really excited for Jurassic World coming out, but yeah, Avengers, all that stuff, so I’ve come to it a little later in life.
And oftentimes with that genre, you get a lot of team dynamic going on too.
Exactly. I guess I’m a sucker for the team dynamic as well because I really love Fellowship of the Ring. It’s my favorite Lord of the Rings movie, when all of them are on their quest together.
Tell me why people should come see the Kapow-i GoGo marathon at the Peoples Improv Theater on June 20! (And now in August!)
I really think there is a strong nostalgia factor to Kapow-i that will really resonate with people, but as you said, it pays homage to those things while connecting with you on a really deep, emotional level and taking you on this long, epic journey. What I think is exciting about it is that we see a lot of theater nowadays that has no intermission, and I’m all about that. I really love plays that are 90 minutes or under, and this is asking a whole lot more. This is asking for 4 ½ hours of theater, which is something that people usually shy away from, but amazingly, everyone who has gone to see Kapow-i doesn’t seem to feel like it is that long. It’s sort of like Netflix binging on your favorite show, and it comes at you so quick and so fast.
If you really want a wonderful, delightful summer fun celebratory time while also kind of getting your culture cred by investing in a really long show, I think this is right in your wheelhouse. And also, it’s not exclusive. It’s wonderful that it is being categorized as geek theater because it very much is, but it’s not exclusive. I don’t think you would have trouble understanding what’s happening or connecting to the characters without that background, and it’s just a blast. It’s fun. It’s a party.
What I also love about it is all the lo-fi stuff being brought to the forefront and being treated so seriously. Like, we really do make the most out of nothing, and we’re not overloading you with spectacle, we’re overloading you with cardboard and duct tape. It’s a reminder of theatrically what is possible, and you use your imagination so much more and sort of flesh out all the details and finish the world.
Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
My personal website is KristinMcCarthyParker.com, and we are bringing back Hold On To Your Butts at the PIT. It’s a two-man remake of Jurassic Park, brought back just in time for Jurassic World. Unlike Kapow-i, it runs just under an hour, and it’s just two guys and a live foley artist who does all our sound effects. That acting group is Recent Cutbacks, and they’re on Twitter @RecentCutbacks.
The zombie apocalypse has hit the Capital! Who will you bring along to take out the walkers, General President Thunderbolt or Hicc-up GoGo?
Hicc-up GoGo. I think he has more good in his heart. It just depends on what part of the play we’re in, but I do think he’s surprisingly resourceful. General President Thunderbolt gets blinded by ambition. He’s a little bit of a liability.
Gummy bears or sour gummy worms?
Sour gummy worms. I really like sour stuff.
Mario or Sonic?
Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?
Small flock of moo-bats, totally.
“F—, Marry, Kill”: Tuxedo Gary, Twig, General President Thunderbolt
Oh my god…oh, dear. Okay, I’d marry Twig because I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with Gary or GPT. Oh, dear… I think I have to say f— General President Thunderbolt and kill Gary! Does anybody kill Gary? It’s mostly Gary’s voice, that for an extended period of time.