Monsters are real. Danger can happen. And theatre as we know it will never be the same.
Don’t fret. This isn’t some Orson Welles-esque announcement warning of Godzilla’s doomed foray into community theatre. Then again—it’s not, not that either. It’s really rather difficult to say what a piece should be called that is focused on discussing and promoting the ultra-bizarro Kaiju Big Battel. And that’s because Kaiju Big Battel is a phenomenon that is as flamboyantly clear in what it is as it is weirdly hard to categorize. Is Kaiju Big Battel satire? Is it homage? Is it interpretative theatre or strictly improve? What the hell is going on, exactly??
One thing is indisputably certain about Kaiju Big Battel—there is a menagerie of monsters, and they all want to kick each other’s asses. Who are some of these wild creatures, whose pugnacity drives much of the plot and action of Kaiju Big Battel? Their names are as frightful as you might expect—Dusto Bunny (an anthropomorphic dust bunny, of course); French Toast (obviously a menacing giant waffle, keep up); Dr. Cube (the villainous disfigured plastic surgeon bent on world domination); and Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle (I shouldn’t even have to tell you that he’s a martial artist with a soup can torso, come ON).
Again, I repeat: What the hell is going on, exactly????
Truthfully, you won’t fully understand what’s going unless you get in on the action live. And for the third time ever, Pittsburgh audiences will have the chance to do just that, thanks to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, when Kaiju Big Battel returns to the Steel City on Saturday, Jun 29th at the Byham Theatre. Audiences will get to watch and participate in the frenzied fight to save earth and try to figure out exactly what Uchu Chu the Space Bug is (and if its fighting for good or evil).
Kaiju Big Battel was born like so many other wild creations were—on a feverish whim in an art student’s project. The off-shoot of Sudio Kaiju, Kaiju Big Battel was created by Rand Borden and David Borden in 1996 while they were students at The School of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Meant to be as much a parody as an homage, Kaiju Big Battel used professional wrestling (particularly Mexican wrestling) and Japenese tokusatsu kaiju kaiju eiga films (the sci-fi/monster films of Japan where Godzilla first marked his territory) as the primary inspiration for their battle and monster-heavy improvisational theatre experiment.
Although originally, the staged productions of Kaiju Big Battel were stylistically and thematically engineered to engage specifically with fans of professional wrestling, superhero comic books, and Japanese film and pop culture, the astounding showmanship, absurdly fun stories, and enticing spontaneity of the performances earned Kaiju Big Battel a much wider and diverse following than they ever anticipated.
In an effort to diversify the sorts of theatre and performance in Pittsburgh while actively confronting the strict limitations and notions of what theatre and performance is allowed to be, the Cultural Trust has brought Kaiju back in the hopes of enjoying the astronomical success of the group’s previous performances in Pittsburgh. Randal Miller, Director of Dance Programming and Special Projects with the Trust tackled the challenge of attracting a diverse, under-40 audience to shows and areas they wouldn’t otherwise frequent will all the ferocity of a flying soup can. Miller remarked,
I think that it is particularly important for large organizations, like the Trust, to focus energy on innovation and diversity of content because they have the resources to create experiences that are generally out of reach. It is also important to try to connect those experiences with the members of the community as broadly as possible and that includes showcasing work that makes people feel like they belong. Hosting Kaiju Big Battel in the Cultural District at a 100 year old historic theater encapsulates this spirit. It helps to elevate the artistry behind a really innovative project and brings in a very diverse audience of people who may not have otherwise come to the Cultural District.”
Miller was given the heads-up about Kaiju by a friend and colleague Vince Masi, an event producer in Lawrenceville, and proceeded to meticulously comb through and comment on the group’s Instagram and other social media to get their attention. After coaxing them through IG comments, Miller and the trust oversold the historic August Wilson center for Kaiju’s Pittsburgh debut with an audience of roughly 600. Upon relocating to the Byham the following year, there was a staggering 900+ audience members. Miller is thrilled at the prospect of audience size growing even more this year.
Kaiju Big Battel is part of a vanguard of performance artists and physical theatre that defies the expectations and limitations of theatre, performance, and art—a crucial defiance in the evolution of the arts that the Trust especially wishes to be involved in. Capitalizing on the inherent melodrama and camp of professional wrestling—a true art form in and of itself as many will rightly argue—and the spirited, dogmatic themes of comic books and superhero stories, Kaiju is deftly and enthrallingly smart satire that infuses cutting social and political commentary, blended with impressive physical acting and physical comedy. “The highly physical nature is…really unique. Although the show follows a fixed narrative arch, the actions of the wrestlers are largely improvised, so anything can happen,” Miller notes, indicating the fascinating blend of styles and genres that inform Kaiju.
With the relocation to the Byham, Kaiju also gets to optimally play with space and audience involvement in important ways that further heighten the art and experience. Miller described the joys of the space for a show as multidimensional as Kaiju: “One of my favorite things about presenting Kaiju in an historic proscenium theater is building the wrestling ring on the stage. This provides some of the audience with the option of standing on stage and getting more closely involved with the action, while also giving them the option of sitting in the comfortable theater seating. The event is general admission so people are also able to change their perspective throughout the night.”
The folks behind Kaiju are famously tight-lipped and difficult to reach, so to experience the maximum euphoria and blissful confusion, you simply have to attend the show. Let your presumptions and preconceptions of theatre and art be blissfully rocked—or else you’ll have to answer to furious, airborne waffle (and trust me, you won’t walk away from that).
For more information on Kaiju Big Battel, visit their homepage.
For more information on tickets, visit the Cultural Trust’s site.