by Thomas Prosser
Our new show at the Eclectic Company Theatre written and directed by Chrisi Talyn Saje opens September 11th. Wombat Man: The Cereal Murders is “a kid’s show for adults” filled with color, camp and all things that made the Adam West Batman TV series a nostalgic favorite. Follow the fur-coated caped marsupial, Wombat Man, as he fights to defend Slothum City from the evil Trix the Rabbit who will stop at nothing to get his fruity tasting Trix cereal. Trix, fed up from his years of ridicule and torture at the hands of selfish children, finally snaps, leaving behind him a wake of dead cereal icons. It is up to the always courageous (and often childish) Wombat Man to take down Trix and his gang of sick cereal stooges. Wombat Man throws punches and puns as he recruits a reluctant sidekick to join him in his crime fighting. Even if you’ve spent your entire life underground in a wombat burrow and have never seen any of the Batman franchise, you will still laugh and cheer as Wombat Man fights to save the day.
Where are you from Chrisi and how did you end up in LA?
I am originally from Chicago, having moved out to Los Angeles in 1998. As they say, Chicago is a good place to be from but the L.A. winters are much better. I moved out here shortly after undergrad to try and get involved in television writing.
Tell us a bit about your background as a theater artist. (Act, direct, write, produce, education, influences)
My undergrad was in Theatre Performance with a minor in English, emphasis on writing. Although my true background has been improv. I’ve been studying and performing improv for 30 years, training at Second City and working with Second City instructors in Los Angeles. It definitely pulses through my Chicago blood. I am heavily influenced by the sitcoms of the 60′s thru the 80′s, as well as John Hughes films. My early introduction to comedy was the Monkees. Recently I got my Masters in Fine Arts from UCLA in TV/Film Producing specializing in Television Writing and Transmedia. Basically, everything I do is to tell a story and touch an audience.
Talk about your writing and creative process.
The process I used for writing Wombat Man: The Cereal Murders was a heavy diet of the Adam West Batman TV series. I watched the show for hours daily to get the tone, and then kept to the basic structure of the two-episode story arc. Then I laced in a more modern tone with references to the Batman/Dark Knight movies, as well as an adult take on my beloved childhood cereal characters. The show had its first run in Chicago in 1996. Development continued and was updated for this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Each time we’ve had an audience, and new actors in the role, it has allowed for tightening and new bits/jokes.
What is the meaning of Wombat Man? Is this a take off on Combat Man? Is there a Combat Man?
Wombat Man is from my lifelong love of wombats. Back in the 1970′s and 80′s, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago had statues of wombats in each of the animal houses with a collection box to “save the wombats.” I always gave them my hard earned allowance, and I guess that stuck. Then, as my love of Batman grew, I put together Wom-Batman… and thought, why not?
You state that Wombat man is a superhero for adults. Explain.
I believe that Wombat Man is a “kid’s show for adults” because the characters are over-the-top and cartoony, but with a humorous edge for an adult audience. The Adam West Batman TV series had a fun mix of kid-humor and winks to their adult audience, which I think is why being a Guest Villain on the show was so desirable for so many big name actors of the 60′s. Then throw in the cereal mascots. They were fun to write since they aren’t heavily defined via the commercials. They really could be expanded upon and envisioned any way I wanted. And what more clear motivation has any character in history ever had than Trix the Rabbit wanting to get his cereal? He quite literally has been trying to acquire Trix for 60 years this year. So it’s pretty easy to imagine he is fed up.
Why do you think young adults and even middle age and older adults are so drawn to comic book type heroes?
The obvious reason kids like comic books is seeing good triumph over evil. As we grow up, there becomes a lot of grey area in life and good doesn’t always prevail. Except in comics. Of course that depends on which one you read and whose interpretation of that franchise, but certainly the fantasy of having the power and skill to win the day never grows old. Probably the same reason we watch romantic comedies. We always know the love interests will come together, no matter what the obstacle.
As for ComicCon and other conventions across the country (my favorite is DragonCon in Atlanta, which is the second largest convention in the U.S.) I can say the fun I have is not only being able to let my “geek” out, dress in fun costumes and maybe see a celebrity or two, for me it’s the community. At DragonCon, which is a very fan-driven con, everyone is super nice to each other, supportive and eager to talk and socialize with strangers. I met someone in line at DragonCon just by striking up a conversation, and we have been friends for years now, even long distance. Most ComicCon goers have grown up as the geeky outsider in school where we were picked on because our interests are not part of the mainstream. So then to be SURROUNDED by other geeks like ourselves who not only have experienced the bullying in their youth, but also are just as excited about the things we are, makes you finally feel “normal.” Whatever that “normal” is.
Talk about some of supporting characters in the play.
My goal, even with the supporting characters, is to give everyone something that makes them unique. To give them a little moment or short story arc of their own so they don’t only exist to service the main plot. Milk, one of Trix’s henchmen, gets his feelings hurt and we see how that affects his performance on the job. Chief Leibowitz (our Chief O’Hara) has a secret desire to be in a boy band, and we see how that plays out. I think things like this not only make it more fun for the actors in these roles, but also gives the show dimension. The first draft of this script was written during the hey-day of the Simpsons, which flourished in the 90′s by fleshing out their ancillary characters and having more than just an A-story in each episode. That is important to me.
What was the Fringe experience like? What is the best thing and worse thing about it?
Fringe was definitely an “experience.” The biggest plus side is the community it creates. For a whole month you are performing, promoting or seeing other shows and meeting tons people who are excited to talk to you about your project, and eager to share theirs. In a city that is designed for film and television, it’s really a freeing environment. But it is a lot of hard work. Part of the badge of honor of being a “Fringer” is just getting through it and being able to laugh with each other about all the trials and tribulations. Would I do it again? Eh… give me a few months to step away from the experience so I can then remember it only fondly and MAYBE I might want to lose my mind producing another play there again.
What else would you like to tell us?
I am a female comedy writer. Hollywood would have you believe we are a rare bird. I don’t know, maybe we are. Men certainly dominate the arena, and then throw in a comic book theme and people have asked, “Who’s the GUY who wrote this?” But I take that as a compliment.
Is the gender of a writer important in comedy writing?
I think comedy is here to entertain and get a laugh. The gender of the writer shouldn’t be center stage. I was actually taught in undergrad that as a female writer, my job was to empower women. That’s great if that’s your thing, but mine is to be funny. I love funny. And my funny might be different from your funny, but that’s what makes the world go ’round. So let’s all just have fun.
Agreed Chrisi. Best of luck.
Wombat Man runs at the Eclectic Company Theatre from September 11th- October 18th, 2015.