The LOLPERA crew takes some time out from its first rehearsal for a group photo. Photo by Greggory Moore.
3:01pm | "I love callbacks," confided director Jessica Variz on June 23 as she watched the 20 or so hopefuls get put through the paces that would help her and LOLPERA co-creators Ellen Warkentine and Andrew Pedroza cast their operatic, philosophical turn on the ludicrous LOLcats phenomenon, which hits the Garage Theatre stage on Sept. 30. "It's crazy how in two hours things can go from completely murky to completely clear."
(Don't know what this LOLPERA business is all about? Read this.)
On July 12 I swung by the house Warkentine and Pedroza (who go by the LOLspeak-friendly moniker LN&AND) share with Michael Burdge — cast as Astro Cat, the face of LOLCAT Corp., who at the beginning of the opera blasts off into space in search of "cheezburger" — to check in on the ensemble as they completed their first rehearsal. And one of the main things on my mind was how much pressure they feel at having to live up to the hype surrounding LOLPERA, much of which was generated by its November 2010 workshop performances.
"[The issue of] pressure is a funny question," said Warkentine, "because first of all, people are so supportive of this project, people are so into it. … The workshop was streamlined and in some ways kind of perfect as it was. I was worried that [the plot development since then] was getting nonsensical, and that we were making up all these ideas that didn't quite fit. And that was a scary place to be. … But I think it had to kind of unravel and go all those places [so it could] arrive back at the center. The workshop had the ideas there, but we kind of didn't unpack them. We've spent a lot of time unpacking these bigger themes."
Pedroza is almost boastful about how far the show has come since the workshop. "If the show as it will be is a 10," he said, "then the workshop was a 3."
When asked for a teaser, Pedroza offered the following jocoserious synopsis: "Act I is like in Les Mis[erables], where we introduce everybody and blah blah blah. … Our Brave New World is Act I, our 1984 is Act II. … Basement Cat gets out of the basement — it's total crazy…. Vibe-wise it's like '80s action film with, like, dystopian elements, Clockwork Orangey but also zombie-apocalyptic … with an epic Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings final battle. … Bloody, funny — it's just really f***ed up. … All of the characters totally change in Act II. Everything turns upside-down, and not everyone makes it out alive."
Said Warkentine, "The test is whether we can bring people to tears while they laugh."
"[LOLPERA] has become so much more meaningful and more important," added Variz. "And the fact that it's f***ing LOLcats that are saying something deeper and greater about our modern world … It's true to the [icanhascheezburger.com] Website, but it's also a comment on the silliness of the Website — and our silliness for being attracted to these things and sending these things around and somehow feeding off of them and creating stupid pictures and waiting to see how many people are going to 'Like' it and if it's going to make the front page. It's not just about the silly Website: it's about us."
In addition to Pedroza (Dreamer Cat), workshop alumni who will appear in the full-scale production include Pedroza's brother Anthony as LOLrus and Sayaka Miyatani as Precious Cat.
Of the entire cast, only Dinah Steward — who plays Gutter Cat, eye-patched LOL City bar-owner and leader of the Box Cats revolution against Basement Cat — had no idea what she was getting into when she answered the Backstage.com audition notice describing the show. "I'm arguably a crazy cat lady, so it was so right up my alley that I couldn't not go," she said, describing the callback as "what I had hoped, and so much more. … After I left I called one of my friends and said, 'I just left the happiest audition, with the nicest people I've ever met. It was like love arrows shot in my direction.' And I don't know if it's from having done theatre in L.A., where I haven't had that experience, but [I said], 'I have to work with them.' In fact, I was [considering doing] another show, but the disparity between the vibe happiness and excitedness and go-team, 'go go, rah rah' vibe that's here … It makes all the difference to what you come away with in the end."
"I love, love, love coming to see [these] guys work and play, and that's really what drew me to" auditioning, said Alexis Udo-Udoma. "I really wanted to be involved and get inspired, be around people who are always happy [while working] and love what they do. [Working with them] is exactly what I imagined it would be like — the craziness, silliness, randomness … I love it."
At this point the ensemble feels that the biggest challenges in bringing LOLPERA to life are all about practicality — "the way we want to mount it within the limitations that we have," as Variz put it. "I have really clear pictures in my mind of what I want it to be, and I just hope that we're able to make it happen. But I'm also realistic. I mean, [the Garage Theatre] is my theatre; I know it well. I'm not imagining fly space and backdrops dropping out of it — because we don't have it, you know? But sometimes your limitations are what help you to be more creative. … I just want it to be worthy of the work that [LN&AND] have done. When you know the people and they're your friends, and you've seen them through this process, you really want to give them the gift of something that is equal to the amount of work that they've put in, which is two years."
To help with the practical side of things — such as acquiring body mics, something the production needs and the Garage Theatre doesn't have — LN&AND have created a Kickstarter page in the hopes of raising $2,000 over the next month. Aside from giving backers pride of sponsorship in "the next big thing," various levels of pledging are rewarded with treats, from getting to attend a "Caturday celebration" featuring songs from the show ($25) to a pair of tickets to the full-blown production and a musical beach date with LN&AND ($250, semi-cheap wine included) to the composition of "a one-act musical about anything you want … staged at the Garage Theatre for you and anyone else you want to invite," plus a DVD recording of the whole business ($1,000).
At the very least, you should visit the page for a full description, plus an amusing video discussing LOLPERA and featuring clips from the workshop.
LOLPERA itself will open at the Garage Theatre September 30, 2011, and will run Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through October 29. And the run will sell out. But you can haz tickets in advance? Yes, can! Check the Garage Theatre website and find out for yourself.
Andrew Pedroza and the LOLPERA script-in-progress. Photo by Greggory Moore.