Trailers? I has dem.

There comes a time in the life of every performer when they’re asked “Do you think you could hit the gym before this project? You’re playing a barbarian.”

OK, no. That’s not true. At least, not for Dwayne Johnson. I think he walks past a rack of weights and just becomes a paragon of human physical training and development. (Love you DJ! I indeed do detect that which the Rock is in process of composing in the kitchen; it smells glorious.)

However, I did in fact visit a weight room and physical training edifice local to my place of dwelling, and the results, well, are now on film for good or ill.

This project is in the late stages of post-production, I’m told, with things like digital effects and color balancing being applied to footage at a torrid pace.

Enjoy!

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Renegades, Assemble!

Ok, so that didn’t come out quite right.captain-battletech

Or did it?

SO, THIS IS BASICALLY THE STORY OF THE LAST YEAR. OF GAMING. FOR ME.

It all began after GenCon 2016. Wait. Not really.

It all began when I saw Harebrained Schemes was crowdfunding a new computer game based on the Battletech tabletop game, in conjunction with Catalyst Game Labs and Battletech creator Jordan Wiseman.tech-readout-3025

Ok. Ok. It REALLY all started when I saw a 3025 Technical Readout for the Battletech Tabletop Strategy game in a comic shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho, tagging along with my dad as he made his weekly run to pick up the new issues, circa 1992.

Battletech: Giant stompy robot war machines piloted by humans locked in an ongoing struggle for dominance of the galaxy. When you’re a 12-year-old kid who’s been fed a strong diet of comic books, TransFormers, GI Joe, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Monty Python, I ask you: What’s not to love?battletech3rdboxset

I saved my yard-mowing money until I could afford the basic boxed set of the game, and thus was an addiction born. I began playing the game with anyone who had the patience to read through the basic ‘quick’ simplified rulebook. I painted my miniature plastic BattleMechs with my mom’s acrylic craft paint. I saved for and purchased more books, more miniatures, and as friends fell away from the game, I even relieved them of their neglected troops.

I should say at this point that Battletech, like most of the things that hold my creative imagination and attention, is so much more than just the battlefield combat, and the competition of out-thinking and out-fighting your opponent. There’s LORE. There is a HUGE story involved. It’s the story of a humanity that spread out among the stars, but even with the interstellar distances involved in a galaxy-spanning human society, the universal stories of Greed, Ambition, Bravery, Cowardice, Valor, Skullduggery, Hope, Desperation, and all the crap Shakespeare and Michael Stackpole wrote about have continued to shape the human experience. . . on worlds as yet unexplored and in the depths of SPACE. It’s great stuff.

And then, like many others have before me, I discovered sports, the fine arts, and girls. School provided so much extra- and co-curricular activity, I’m amazed looking back that I had time to sleep. As a result, the disciplined warriors of House Kurita and my mercenary band of roughnecks collected dust in a cardboard box. But, every once in a while, I would flip through the Battletech Compendium of rules, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. The years passed: college, Chicago, grad school, Tacoma, working, marriage, kids.

After a while, I got back into tabletop games. My parents moved nearby and I reclaimed my old gaming gear from the basement. I thought to myself, “Maybe when I have time, I should get back into Battletech. Man, I used to love that game.”mwo-grasshopper

A couple more years passed, but what was no longer out-of-sight was also no longer out-of-mind. I started looking online at Catalyst Game Labs’ website dedicated to what has become “Classic” Battletech. (Nothing is quite the same after something you loved as a young person becomes “Classic”. Classic Rock, for instance. When did R.E.M. and U2 become classic rock? But, I digress.) Once again, the itch to sit in that command couch, strap on my neurohelmet, and pilot my 70 ton instrument of battlefield dominance to victory was as overwhelming as that February day in that comic book shop I can’t remember the name of so long ago.

I never really thought I’d get as close as I have to living that particular dream.

You see a year ago, a Seattle-area game developer, Harebrained Schemes, Kickstarted the aforementioned Battletech computer game. It would be a turn-based, third-person, top-down strategy combat game, with all the flavor and many of the mechanical aspects of the Battletech tabletop game (but, like, with 3d ‘Mechs and terrain, and environmental effects, awesome lighting, sweet weapon animations, voice acting, an open-ended single-player campaign mode as well as a PvP gameplay aspect as well).hbs-logo

I totally backed the heck out of it when time came to crowdfund the production of the game. (If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’re interested in backing the game yourself, just follow this link.)

Six months later, Em and I were invited to GenCon Indianapolis, where I knew there would be a chance to play a super-early build of the game at the Harebrained Schemes booth in the exhibition hall. I played the heck out of that demo, too, and came away super impressed and, well, wanting way more.hyperrpg-logo

Also at GenCon, I made a brief connection with Zac Eubank of Hyper Rabbit Power Go!, which is a Twitch channel. (More on Twitch here) Not only is HyperRPG a Twitch channel, but they’re affiliated with Harebrained Schemes and producing a weekly broadcast of a hybridized Roleplaying and Tabletop Battletech series, played on a large scale gameboard with huge, 3D-printed Battlemech ‘mini’atures. The name of the show? “Death From Above”. Cool. Super cool.dfa-logo

So, there I was, at GenCon with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment as a ‘booth dude’, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I should make sure and get Zac’s card and see if I can make some kind of connection between these two companies because they’re both in the Seattle area and in the same sort of entertainment biz and maybe we can bring them some of our audience and we can get some more exposure for ZOE. . . everybody wins?”

EVERYBODY WINS. YOU WIN . . . and YOU WIN!

I handed off Zac’s card to Ben Dobyns and he handed off the networking to Chris Ode, who thought it would be a super good idea to leverage all the improv comedy talent in the ZOE stable to help create content for HyperRPG. And thus, history was made, and a rag-tag collection of actors became the Renegades of Death From Above.dfa-banner-ad-hyperrpg

As a way to introduce us to the HyperRPG audience, and give the original cast of “DFA” a break (They’d been at it every Friday for five months.), the kind people at Hyper RPG put us right into their prime Friday 6pm spot, and I was so graciously asked by the one and only Chris Ode (chosen by the top brass to be the gamemaster for this little circus of improv and Battletech) to be the first “Bad Guy,” of this interim series. I would get to be the first obstacle to the other characters’ goals, the first speedbump on their path to success . . . or maybe I’d end up killing them all off in the game.

One of the interesting aspects of this episodic ‘game’ show is that when a player’s character is killed in the game, that actor is done. Finito. Not asked to return. So, if you want to come back and play again, there are some significant stakes to the survival of your character.

I was called on to play a tough bounty hunter character who is after the price on the head of our plucky hero (played with some drunken elán by Christian Doyle), and Chris thought it would be fun if he had some kind of dialect. I remember trying a few out on him over the phone, and somehow we settled on Russian. That was basically my brief for the evening, with a couple plot bits thrown in for good measure. Not only did I get to create a fun character, but hey, my character survived! And I didn’t kill off any of my opponents, so, in the game, and after the combat was over, our characters all decided to go out for drinks together to celebrate living to fight another day.

Another of the more interesting parts of this experience was discovering the community that this show had generated. Wow, are they a great bunch of people! They were so welcoming and really seemed to enjoy what we brought to the gaming table and into the room as these new characters came together in this established show.

To elaborate: the followers of this show are able to chat online with each other while watching the show, and this chat is essentially part of the action (and through contributing $$ to the channel during the program, they can affect the course of the game).  They chat with each other and comment on the action in a way that the audience of an improv show can’t. It was entirely novel to me, and the richness of the interaction was something I was totally unprepared for. During performance, there’s no way to really keep track of what they’re commenting on, but it was possible to see what they enjoyed/liked/didn’t like so much when I watched the Video On Demand of the episode with the Chat visible. It was easy to see that this was truly a remarkable group that was really enjoying our work (play).

To top it all off, the audience enjoyed me enough as the Russian from space, the good people of HyperRPG and ZOE invited me back! I got to play in four of the eight episodes of the “DFA: Renegades” run, and I had an absolute blast as the Space Russian Bounty Hunter: Nikolai Sokolov. It was such a pleasure to work with both the ZOE and HyperRPG teams, and I really hope I get to do it again!

And THAT’s the story of how I got to play Battletech in front of the ENTIRE INTERNET.

(Want to check it out? The episodes of “Death From Above: Renegades” are available on YouTube and for Twitch subscribers (VOD streaming with chat visibility) at the HyperRPG Twitch channel.)

Hunting Demons since 2007 (er, earlier than that, but yeah!)

Children, it’s story time:

Once upon a time, I made some extremely shoestring-budget films with my college buddies. We were, and still are, nerds who like Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons. With this confluence of influences, many of us actors at one time or another, and the available technology and willingness to make absolute fools of ourselves, we hit on the idea of filming the scripts of one Matt Vancil.

The first of these was Demon Hunters, quickly followed by Demon Hunters 2: Dead Camper Lake, and international cult hit The Gamers. I’m not making the international cult hit thing up, either. Copies of the DVD were sold to places like Finland, the UK of GB, the Baltic Republics (I’m looking at you, Lithuania) and many other fancy nations not in North America. All this was back in the days before digital streaming of videos, and we had to actually ship things physically from place to place, employing thousands of people rather than calling on our robot drone army to deliver items door-to-door.

After we’d finished filming The Gamers, I graduated from our liberal arts university, and being an ambitious nerd, moved to Chicago to attend graduate school.

While I was away from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, my friends incorporated themselves into a film company, Dead Gentlemen Productions. Under this aegis, they produced and filmed The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. For a while, in the early days of live streaming for Netflix, you could find it in their catalog. It was a big deal for the company, and totally raised the profile of our once little group of buddeez.

Not only had we entered the age of digital streaming, but my contact with the company changed as I moved to the middle of the continent  and pursued my theatrical training and career to obsession. It is, after all, what one is supposed to do in graduate school for theatre. It’s also at this point in the story that I lost track of the day-in, day-out goings on in the ‘company’. Things were changing in my absence, which is not to say that had I been present, they would’ve remained the same.

I returned to the Pacific Northwest for reasons romantic. My then-girlfriend (now wife) Emilie had just landed a great job in Tacoma, and I, in my naïveté, thought “Well, I can continue my acting career anywhere! There’s a major theatre in Tacoma (the now defunct Tacoma Actor’s Guild), and it’s just a short commute to Seattle! The Dead Gentlemen guys have more stuff in the works, and I get to be with the lady I love!”

Within 6 months of landing in Tacoma I had indeed landed on my feet and continued my theatrical career. I had booked a school tour with The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Adventure Musical Theatre outreach: “Klondike! The Great Alaskan Gold Rush”, and landed a role in “Once Upon a Time in New Jersey” at The Village Theatre in Issaquah. The ‘walking-distance’ theatre I’d once dreamed of working at closed its doors mid-season in ignominy over mismanagement and profligate spending. And Dead Gentlemen Productions, still alive and kicking despite several key members moving to other states for film school, jobs, and educational opportunities, was indeed about to embark on another project.

Which brings me to the point of all this historically-based rambling: the glory that is the Demon Hunters: Brotherhood Orientation Video. Filmed in early 2007, and published in a DVD included with Margaret Weis Productions’ Demon Hunters: Roleplaying Game, it is, in my opinion, the most fully realized vision of the original source material, and captures best the essence of what we were attempting to create with the first two Demon Hunter films.

I bring all this up, because the new Dead Gentlemen Productions website has launched! And with it, we have access to this jewel of low-budget, mixed-genre filmmaking. Enjoy!

 

Like what you see? There’s going to be more! The Dead Gentlemen return to their origin! From the DG website: “The Demon Hunters are back in a new weekly comic from Dead Gentlemen Productions! We’re taking things back to before the beginning with a new format, new stories, and a few surprises along the way. This is Demon Hunters the way it was always meant to be seen—without the limitations of a college film budget. Join the hunt on April 1st at Demon-Hunters.com!”

 

Ketchup. Catsup? Catch-up.

So, it’s been a while. Those awkward moments when you attempt to re-establish a rapport after months away from a colleague, you know, the person you had that ‘finish-each-other’s-jokes’ vibe with; you know those moments. I hate those moments. I’m going to bullet-point this update just to get through with it, and then we can carry on like we used to back in ’13 (or maybe ’12).

Joseph Coors and executives re-shape the world- with dance.

Watt?!?. Village Originals Developmental Production. Photo by Sam Freeman. Property of Village Theatre.

August, 2013“WATT?!?” was a big, vulgar, funny, provocative success during Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals. We got great receptions from our audiences, provoked lively discussion, and came a way learning a little something . . . about ourselves. (The more you know!) Last December, I was even privileged to re-unite with my “WATT?!?” cast-mates (you know who you are), band (ditto), musical director (Aaron Jodoin) and composer (the ever-awesome Brendan Milburn) to record the premiere cast album at Seattle’s famed Studio X (some minor bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M.,  and Soundgarden recorded some marginally significant albums there.)

September, 2013 – Vacation. Mexico, baby.

September, 2013 – Rehearsals for  . . .

MuchAdoPoster-225x300

October, 2013 Much Ado About Nothing at Seattle Shakespeare Company. Really, there’s far too much for me to say about my experience in this show. I was given the opportunity to play one of the roles that got me interested in Shakespeare, and in Theatre. I was acting opposite a fantastic Beatrice, and with a tremendous cast of familiar and new faces. I was working with a director I for whom I have tremendous respect and with a company that has been one of my artistic homes. It was a dream job, and my hope is that I did justice to the role, and allowed the audience to enjoy what is one of my favorite plays. I haven’t read them (another post for another time), but I’ve attached some links to some of the notices we received from local reviewers:

Seattle Times- Seattle Shakespeare stages a jazzy, ’50s-set ‘Much Ado’

Seattle Weekly- Opening Nights: Much Ado About Nothing

Heed The Hedonist- Two Plays Worth Seeing End November 17th

Arts Stage- Seattle Rage- “Much Ado About Nothing” presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company       

Seattle Gay News- Love wins out – Seattle Shakespeare Co. jazzes up a romantic comedy classic

Jim Gall as Don Pedro, Matt Shimkus as Benedick, and Jay Myers as Claudio in Seattle Shakespeare Company's 2013 production of "Much Ado About Nothing"

Jim Gall as Don Pedro, Matt Shimkus as Benedick, and Jay Myers as Claudio in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing”

Matt Shimkus as Benedick in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo by John Ulman.

Matt Shimkus as Benedick in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo by John Ulman.

Jennifer Lee Taylor as Beatrice and Matt Shimkus as Benedick in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo by John Ulman.

Jennifer Lee Taylor as Beatrice and Matt Shimkus as Benedick in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Photo by John Ulman.

So, there you have it! The latest news (a mere few months old)!

There is more to come, very soon!

And this time, I really mean it.

Dude! You’re destroying the Earth, man dude!

Watt-bannerJames G. Watt has become something of a punch-line in discussions of U.S. politics in the 1980’s. Now, there’s a whole musical play about him, and I’m in it along with some of Seattle’s finest. Below is the blurb from the Village Theatre website. Click the link below or the banner above for more information, along with performance times, and ticketing. See you after the show!
WATT?!?

A Village Originals Developmental Production

With book and lyrics penned by 12-time Emmy Award-winning David Javerbaum (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All), this over-the-top political satire musical is based on the true story of James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s infamous Secretary of the Interior. Watt is best remembered for opening millions of acres of federal land for exploitation, banning the Beach Boys from 4th of July festivities, and successfully offending nearly everyone he came across. An eclectic score by Jonathan Larson Award-winner Brendan Milburn boasts music ranging from gospel, to rock, to country, making this a brazen musical experience unlike anything you’ve seen before.

August 9-18, 2013

Matt at Taproot in “Bach at Leipzig”

Bach at Leipzig - Taproot Theatre 2013

Bach at Leipzig – Taproot Theatre 2013

Even though it is the middle of audition season here in the greater Seattle area, production continues, as ever, as companies put up their last few shows before the summer. There has been some great work on the boards this spring, with lauded productions like NCTC’s The Trial, Balagan’s August: Osage County, ACT Theatre’s Assisted Living, Seattle Rep’s Boeing, Boeing, Seattle Shakespeare’s indoor re-mount of Wooden O’s The Taming of the Shrew, and Taproot’s The Whipping Man, just to name a few.

I hope to carry that baton as well in Taproot Theatre’s production of Itamar Moses’ Bach at Leipzig. A bit of background, cribbed from the back of the script:

“Leipzig, Germany – 1722. Johann Kuhnau, revered organist of the Thomaskirche, suddenly dies, leaving his post vacant. The town council invites musicians from across Germany to audition for the coveted position, among them young Johann Sebastian Bach. In an age where musicians depend on patronage from the nobility or the church to pursue their craft, the post of a prominent church in a cultured city is a near guarantee of fame and fortune – which is why some of the candidates are willing to resort to any lengths to secure it. Bach at Leipzig is a fugue-like farcical web of bribery, blackmail, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Enlightenment questions about humanity, God, and art.”

Sound like your cup of tea? Want glittering, witty dialogue, tights and wigs, and some swordplay? Itamar Moses’ script is a multi-faceted gem of intelligence, character, and comedy, with depth to surprise and ideas to challenge you to think further.

Being a reader of discernment and excellent taste (as demonstrated by your choice of electronic literature, ahem): I know this show is for you. Click the banner above to be magically whisked away to Taproot’s webpage for information on dates, times, and how to get your hands on what is sure to be a hot ticket.