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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Emma Orelove (far left) stars as Kat in "The Hungry Hungry Games," coming to the Pabst Sunday night. (PHOTO: Michael O'Brien)

"The Hungry Hungry Games" brings parody to Panem


Actress Emma Orelove wasn't expecting to become a fan of Suzanne Collins' bestselling book series "The Hunger Games" when it first came out.

"I heard everyone talking about it and everyone reading it on the subway, and I was like, 'I don't want to be involved,'" Orelove recalled. "I had a friend, though, who was reading it, and she was like, 'Emma, you have to read this book.' So I did, and I loved it! I like how dark it is and relatable it is, and the entire concept is so fascinating. So I guess I read it pretty much as soon as it came out, and after that, I couldn't put them down."

And now, Orelove is playing the series' iconic heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Well … kind of.

Orelove stars as Kat Evans, the representative of District 12 in "The Hungry Hungry Games," an unauthorized on-stage parody of the smash hit book and film series that's coming to the Pabst Theater Sunday, Nov. 3. It comes at the right time, with the second "Hunger Games" film, "Catching Fire," coming out later in the month.

The story is much the same, with young representatives chosen from the dystopian districts of Panem to fight for glory – and the wealthy's entertainment. However, "The Hungry Hungry Games" – from director and head writer Jim Millan, one of the masterminds behind "SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody" and the sketch comedy show "The Kids in the Hall" – flips the dark saga on its head, trading in sharp survival skills for sharp laughs and rough action for rap battles.

It may seem like a tough stretch to take gruesome institutionalized kid murder and turn it into comedy (an upcoming film parody called "The Starving Games" is hoping to strike the same balance, though considering it comes from the guys behind "Vampires Suck," "Epic Movie" and the aptly titled "Disaster Movie," it will likely be terrible), but Orelove believes they found a way to make it work with hilarious results.

"We still have the deaths, but it never feels like the kids are killing each other," Orelove said. "The way we kill off the characters is very comical. It's not like, 'Oh my god, they're stabbing this little girl.' We balance the comedy around that. I think there's only one death that you see in the show. We've taken all of the gruesomeness and made it funny by making it with unrealistic circumstances."

Some of the humor also comes from references and jokes that evolved into the script over time and practice. For instance, a Miley Cyrus joke has worked its way into the final production. Some other jokes come from the actors' own knowledge and appreciation of the famed books and features.

"That was something great about the rehearsal process," Orelove said. "(Millan) was super flexible about us adding our own stuff. Because it is a new piece, you have that freedom to make it your own, find things that are working, find things that maybe aren't working so much and figure out how to make them work. It's been a really fun, freeing process."

The loose rehearsals, cast and crew were a relief for Orelove, especially considering "The Hungry Hungry Games" marks one of her first experiences working with this kind of screwy, improv-esque brand of comedy.

"It was scary, I'm not going to lie," Orelove said. "I felt a lot of times the pressure to have to be funny, but I relaxed into it, trusted the work and played off the other actors. Our cast is so talented and extremely funny, and a lot of them actually have experience with improv and sketch, so I learned a lot from them and our director. I'm usually attracted to dark, twisted, quirky characters, so this is really new to me, but I'm having so much fun."

If jumping into live comedy for the first time wasn't intimidating enough, Orelove also had the responsibility of bringing a now-iconic character to the stage, one that people already love and recognize from the book or from Jennifer Lawrence's on-screen portrayal. Orelove had already seen the movie before being cast, but decided not to watch it again to not get too specific with the performance.

"That was a little intimidating, feeling like I had to emulate what she was doing but also making it my own," Orelove said. "But starting in the rehearsal process, it was super fun because I was able to kind of parody her but also stay true to her badass self. When you're holding a bow, it's not so hard to get into the role. It kind of takes you there."

Orelove also noted that it helped that Kat is essentially the straight man for the rest of the show's crazy characters and antics (it's a small cast of five, so the other four actors play multiple roles). She doesn't believe they poke fun at Katniss too much or stray horribly far from the character's original form. That being said, the heroine doesn't leave the show completely unscathed.

"She is still a teenager, a female teenager," Orelove said. "A lot of that was already there for me in the writing, making fun of her bad skin and feeling nervous around the cute boys."

According to the actress, any jokes or mocking in "The Hungry Hungry Games," however, come from a place of fandom and appreciation for the source material.

"It's all in good fun," Orelove said. "We poke fun at it out of love. Most everyone on the project was familiar with 'The Hunger Games' and already had a love for it, which makes it more fun to make fun of it."

So now that the show's creators have taken on "50 Shades of Grey" and "The Hunger Games," which famous book should be the next one on the comedic hit list?

"I feel like Harry Potter is done too much; that's too easy," Orelove guessed. "I think something old, like 'The Hobbit.' I mean, they're really good with the contemporary, and that's what's hot now, but I think it'd be really funny if they went back and did something that was timeless that would reach so many. I think they'd do a really good number on the dwarves and orcs and elves. I think they could make really good fun with that."

Be warned, J.R.R. Tolkien; the odds may be ever in your favor next.


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