In 2014 Hold On To Your Butts (Recent Cutbacks’ parody of Jurrasic Park) left me so impressed that I actually advised “If you’ve never seen Jurassic Park (anyone?) then let this be your introduction to the work. Trust me, see this first and you’ll never see the movie the same way again.”
I loved how they took a CGI heavy movie and did a shot-for-shot parody in a small theatre with nothing but creative props and a crap ton of innovation. When I saw the show it had a limited engagement, but went on to have a (much deserved) year-long sold out run.
This amazing team is back again taking on Lord of The Rings with Fly, You Fools! The show starts next month, but I couldn’t wait to chat with Recent Cutbacks to find out what they’ll have in store for their audiences. Read on to find out how the team settled on what to keep and what to toss, how they came up with the fantastic title, and what they think Peter Jackson would appreciate about Fly, You Fools!
Here we go!
How did a year of Hold On To Your Butts bring you to the notion that you could tackle another CGI heavy movie like Lord of the Rings?
Kyle Schaefer (Writer/Performer): Nick really led the charge on LOTR. We haven’t talked that much about the CGI, actually. It’s a fantasy and it’s EPIC. I feel like that’s what we were drawn to. It feels even bigger than HOTYB, and that’s exciting. We added a player, but the show almost feels more sparse than HOTYB. It’s just such a big story and a big world. Mythic. And we like the challenge of attempting to create what seems impossible.
Nick Abeel (Writer/Performer): You can pretty much do anything with CGI in movies anymore. And with that, I think there’s something lost – we’re desensitized to it – it doesn’t ask as much of our imagination. So I think what we realized with HOTYB is that there’s great joy in simplicity. We’re never going to recreate the movie exactly. That’s impossible. And it allowed us to focus more on how the movie makes you feel. If you capture that, the simple but potent execution reminds people of how much they remember from the movie. They have the experience of watching us but also watching the movie in their own minds. Sounds cheesy, but CGI ain’t got nothin’ on good ol’ imagination.
Kristin McCarthy Parker (Director): We’ve been wanting to do another project for a very long time. This movie was always on the back burner, but life, work, and other commitments prevented us from diving in sooner. HOTYB was so fast and sudden, we made a lot of decisions in the room that felt right at the time, but we also didn’t have any sense of how the show would be received while we were creating it. We literally only anticipated a single performance, so certain elements of the show were created without a mind towards longevity or resources. We’re approaching FYF with a slightly different sensibility … We have a more solid sense of what works and what doesn’t, we know what we’re interested in exploring this time, and we’re aiming for something that not only builds upon but diverges from HOTYB. It’s really exciting!
Matt Zambrano (Writer/Performer): Well, I actually wasn’t apart of HOTYB, but I did see it three times! One of the things that made it such a special show was that element of creative interpretation: How do you take an epic movie and put it on a stage with just three performers? With a ton of energy, enthusiasm and innovation. I think with FYF, we’re really relying on the imagination of audience to fill in the pieces we could never create on stage…which, I believe, is true for most good pieces of art; it is always more engaging when not all the dots are connected, and not all the answers are in plain sight.
Allyson Morgan (Producer): We knew that our follow up piece from HOTYB had to keep the company and the work moving forward – LOTR seemed like both a hard and exciting challenge! Also, HOTYB taught us a lot about what was able to be accomplished with creativity and imagination, which meant that nothing was really off-limits in terms of what we could parody.
Blair Busbee (Sound/Foley): I wasn’t a part of the original creators for HOTYB. I remember seeing the show in its early days and loved it! So I came back. And then I brought my mother who cackled loudly the whole way through. And then I devilishly plotted to take over Kelsey’s foley role, and somehow that magically happened. As far as tackling CGI movies. I actually kind of find it overwhelming–but that’s when you take a step back and breathe and figure out how to simply tell a story and just try things. It’s just serious play… Dame Judi Dench says it best,”I think the trick is to take your work seriously, but not yourself seriously at all.”
One thing that was really evident was how much you all really needed to trust each other during Hold On To Your Butts. There were so many things that relied on exact timing, teamwork, and precision. Talk to me about how that makes these shows work.
Kyle: Neither show is anything if not a team effort. Everyone puts ideas into the room, everyone builds on them, and everyone chooses what to take and leave. It’s a constant process of throwing stuff out and editing, and very quickly into the process it’s hard to claim ownership of any given piece. It feels entirely created by the group mind. The trust is inherent because everyone in the group is incredibly talented and good at what they do. Everyone really cares about the process and each other. We all show up to play and takes risks equally. There’s no room for ego, and we’re all exploring together…like a Fellowship, but guided by silliness!
Nick: Working in this collaborative way is liberating if you have the right team. It allows you to put an idea out there and let the idea sink or swim, without attaching personal stake to it. In that way, it compels us to be egoless artists, listening to each other and deciding as a group what is best for the show, rather than just what is a good idea or who had it. I have no idea who came up with what in HOTYB because we made it as a group. The writing credit is all of us, including Kristin as director. That type of room starts with trust. So in assembling the team for FYF, we chose folks that we knew could work in this way and most importantly, just have fun and play.
Kristin: Trust is huge. On a fundamental level, we trust each other as artists, which means that we value everyone’s voice and contributions in the rehearsal room. We’ve chosen each other because of our unique talents and sensibilities, so we entrust each other with our ideas and criticisms. It’s essential to this sort of ensemble show. Moreover, once the show has a chance to exist onstage, that trust allows the show to continue growing, since each actor trusts that he/she can experiment with new ideas and everyone will be there to catch them. It allows the show to be both consistent and dynamic, which matters when you’re performing it for as long as we ran HOTYB.
Matt: Working with talented people who share a common goal and vision is essential to the success of any creative venture, however I think what’s more important to us as a group is maintaining a sense of play. We as adults don’t always allow ourselves the time or space to get silly, which is unfortunate because that sense of play is vital to theater, especially comedies.
Allyson: Recent Cutbacks is truly a group effort – everyone pitches in on everything from creative decisions in the rehearsal room to how we want our marketing and branding to work. I personally have been a part of a few different theatre companies, and the success of a company always comes back to respecting one another’s opinions and intuition, and being able to listen to everyone’s point of view. We’re very lucky that in this group we communicate well with one another.
When you say “shot for shot parody” – yet the production comes in at around 1 hour, it’s clear you’re not doing EVERY shot. If you’ve removed/condensed anything how did you make that choice? Was it based on things too technically difficult to recreate, or things that just simply weren’t fun?
Kyle: We actually play a drinking game that decides what stays in. That’s what we mean by shot-for-shot. :) I think we’re more concerned with essence. What needs to stay in to tell the story, particularly the story that you remember from the film. We’re trying to put up a live version of someone’s recollection of the film. Part of that is very visual, so there is more of a focus on how to recreate certain film shots in a live format. Theater is obviously a very different way of directing attention and telling story than film. Going iconic moment to iconic moment is the fun of these little ditties.
Nick: “Shot for shot” helps people understand what we’re doing. In the room, we worked to boil down each scene down to its most essential parts and leave the rest. We wanted the show to move at a very fast pace and just under an hour felt right. We wanted to get in and get out without overstaying our welcome.
Kristin: Mostly we cut based on what’s not fun. We actually welcome those challenging sequences, since they’re usually what the audience wants to see us tackle. (My personal fave was the helicopter shot from HOTYB). But, yes, we’ve consciously eliminated the redundant, inactive, and non-iconic parts of the movies to hit the highlights, and trust that the audience’s internal sense of the film will carry them through the rest.
Matt: It really just sort of comes down to the essential story you’re trying to tell. I’m a huge fan of the trilogy, and I remember in one of the bonus discs Peter Jackson was discussing why they didn’t include The Scouring of the Shire in ROTK (Sorry, going to geek out for a second), or Tom Bombadil in the first film. His reasoning, which I agree with, is that ultimately this is a story about the finding and eventual destruction of the ring. It’s the same with our show; there is so much great material, but ultimately you’ve got to whittle it down to it’s most important scenes. In the slam poetry world we call it “Killing Puppies” : meaning when you write a 3:00 minute poem with someone, you’re inevitably going to have to cut some lines. And they’re probably great lines that you love, but you’ve got to come in under time. No one wants to kill puppies…
Allyson: I’ll defer to Nick, Kyle, and Kristin on most of those decisions, but ultimately it’s a combination of what do we think we can effectively communicate and what do we think the audience will get a kick out off.
Talk a little about what each one of you does, and some challenges of this production that you’re really proud of.
Kyle: It’s still very early on and we’re figuring a lot out. We all do everything. Much more in this show than the last. I can tend to be Professor Serious Poopy Pants with the “but what is the HEART of this moment” type pretentious comments at times. But otherwise it’s pretty much all hands on deck. Something people probably aren’t going to see (because we took it out of the trailer) that I really enjoyed was the forced perspective shot at the beginning where Frodo is riding in the cart with Gandalf who’s so much bigger than him. I did some nice “horse work”. My Acting MFA class and teachers would have been so proud.
Nick: I tend to be the guy who comes in every day with 20 new ideas. Kristin and I have worked together for a long long time and she is very good at sifting out the great ideas from the rest. I’m also in a Mime theater company. Mime? Yes mime. Broken Box Mime Theater. Check us out. We’re bringin’ it back. Anyways, I bring a background in physical theater that obviously shaped the way we executed HOTYB and will execute FYF.
Especially in the early part of the process, I try to push us to explore the extreme limits of what the show could be. We considered doing HOTYB entirely with puppets at one point. We’ve already scrapped some grand ideas I had for FYF involving projections, as it didn’t feel right for this show. But I think it’s important to go explore those grand visions, because often those ideas come back around. We have an extensive “maybe file” to rifle through. It looks like we’re really interested in FYF in exploring foley and music in a more full way and going even simpler with the visuals. But we’ll see! Who knows where it will go.
I think the challenging thing this time is the amount of characters that are in this story. It’s probably triple the amount from HOTYB. And the scope. The story in HOTYB exists entirely on one island. For FYF, we’ll have to create an entire world.
Kristin: As the director I keep an eye on tone, pacing, shape, and how a brilliant seed of an idea translates into something that reads clearly for the audience. We’re still building the show, so there isn’t too much to give away just yet, but I think we’ve made some interesting choices already in terms of how we’re going to further explore our lo-fi, ridiculous, and inventive aesthetic. We’ve always wanted to go full-bore with foley, even more so than we did on HOTYB, so that is something I’m excited to be exploring this time around.
Matt: I was tasked with making a sort of living draft of the script, and after we watched the film for inspiration, I went away and wrote what I thought would be a concise, comedic re-telling. I was worried that it was too long (get ready to kill those puppies), but wanted to keep everything in as it all seemed necessary. I was overjoyed when we did a read through and found not only was it not too long, it needed some scenes added!
Allyson: As the producer, I’m generally in charge of overseeing the administrative and organizational details – everything from helping to keep the budget streamlined, to running the comp list, to designing the program, to sending the press release, etc. Also, I give creative input towards the end of the process as an outside pair of eyes.
Blair: I’m tasked with mustering my best Cate Blanchett voice.
How did you settle on LOTR? Did you throw around other ideas? And in a perfect world could we expect to see those shows brought to life too?
Kyle: We have several things in our minds. This one was the most ready to go. It also feels like a good follow-up to HOTYB. Building on what we learned last time, but it’s a totally different jam. Very different movie. Much more music and epic looks. HOTYB was like, “we’re some characters…OH NO, RUN FROM THE DINOSAURS!!”
Nick: I’ve seen these movies like a million times so it helps to have a “shot for shot” memory of it in my head! That does a lot of the work of knowing what the most necessary and ‘iconic’ parts are, the things the audience will go “ah man I can’t wait to see how they do this or that sequence”. Kristin and I devised a live trailer for Game of Thrones a few years ago for a monthly 5-minute play festival called Shotz! We really loved the style we came up with for that piece and thought it could really work well for this fantasy trilogy. So it’s been at the top of my list for a while, as it is the movie I could see the clearest how we’d execute it.
Other movies: The Matrix looms pretty large for me, as I love the physical challenges it poses. I’m also really really interested to devise more trailers. We loved that even-shorter format.
Kristin: It’s been towards the top of our list for a year now, but we’ve heavily considered other iconic movies… Independence Day, Home Alone, and The Matrix, to name a few. I can’t tell you how many conversations with friends after a show have devolved into “which movie should Recent Cutbacks take on next?” We try to choose material that is fun, challenging, and that we have some sort of connection to or nostalgia for. It wouldn’t really work, I don’t think, to take on a movie that we weren’t at least a little obsessed with (or wished we had been in). I’m super-excited for FYF because the movie literally changed my life when I first saw it in theaters. My friends and I all assigned ourselves different characters in the movie and used those names as nicknames for years… We still do!
Matt: Before the gang approached me about FYF I suggested they should do Forrest Gump. Don’t know if that will every happen….
Allyson: I know other members of our team have shared additional titles we considered, that will hopefully be a part of our future canon! Kristin and Nick seemed particularly excited about this concept, so we moved forward with it.
Blair: I think it’s mostly Nick’s fault.
If Peter Jackson came to see this – what part of your show do you think he’d get the biggest kick out of?
Kyle: Single. Tear.
Nick: I think he would appreciate the reverence for for the source material with which we created the show. Like HOTYB, FYF will be part-parody, part-love letter to this wonderful movie that had such an impact on our visual and imaginative development.
Kristin: He’d probably get a kick out of watching a group of adults pay tribute to his film by running around onstage doing impressions with a bunch of household items. I think he’s got more than a bit of nerd in him, and taking on a project like this feels like the ultimate fantasy nerd endeavor.
Matt: I think he would love what we’re doing with the prologue!
Allyson: I think just the fact that we’re attempting to do something in this way should be exciting to any director/creator who values innovation!
Blair: I think he would be the most tickled in the first few moments of the show! The opening sequence is lovely.
Finally – Fly, You Fools! Great line from the movie. And a much debated issue among fans of the book and the movie (“Why didn’t Frodo just fly to Mount Doom???”) So it’s a great title for the show. What’s the story behind how you came to settle on it?
Kyle: When Nick came to my Twenty-Elevensies Birthday party he found a ring I had dropped right by the pizza oven behind the PIT bar, and though it should have burnt him it was cool to the touch. As Kristin stroked her beard nearby, he noticed the inscription that appeared only to him and it read: “Fly, You Fools!“ (Nick picked it) :p
Nick: I pushed hard for this title. First of all, we loved having the word “fools” in the title, similarly to having the word “butts” in our first title. It lets you know what kind of show to expect. Secondly, Hold On To Your Butts sounded like a tongue in cheek way to say “get ready for this silly ride”. “Fly, You Fools!” sounds like a command to do the impossible, which is in a lot of ways what we are attempting – to take (metaphorical) flight with nothing but a few props, foley, and a lot of earnest, foolish, physical play.
Kristin: The “why didn’t they take the eagles” debate is not forgotten in our show ;) We felt like the line captured the goofy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants energy of our productions. It also is iconic enough to let people know exactly what we’re doing.
Matt: Don’t get me started on the conspiracy theories. I think it works great as a title, because it’s instantly recognizable to anyone who is familiar with the story, and it’s short and sweet. It’s also a command of action, much like “Hold On To Your Butts”, so it sounds exciting. “They Have a Cave Troll” was my 2nd favorite title choice …
Okay, so without even seeing this show I can pretty much guarantee that this will be an amazing ride … and any fan of the original LOTR will definitely want to go see this. So, what are you waiting for? Scroll down! Get your tickets!
Fri, 4/8 @ 8pm
Fri, 4/15 @ 8pm
Fri, 4/22 @ 8pm
Fri, 4/29 @ 8pm
THE PEOPLES IMPROV THEATER
123 E 24TH ST
NEW YORK, NY 10010
Recent Cutbacks is a theatrical playground co-founded by Nick Abeel. Kelsey Didion, Kristin McCarthy Parker, Allyson Morgan, and Kyle Schaefer inspired by irreverence, pop culture, and high theatricality. For more information check out www.recentcutbacks.com