Most of the time, during an interview with the creators of a ground breaking stage show, it’s unusual for the lead actor to sit beside me and lick my legs the whole time. Then again, since it’s first appearance during the 2010 Fringe Festival, Dog Powered Robot has been anything but usual. The show was a surprise hit again when it returned with a full length version for 2011 Fringe, sold out almost every performance and took home practically every award. The zaniness is back for it’s 3rd installment at this year’s fest and the “marketing freight train” is already in motion. Big Damn Geeks managed to open a hailing frequency and spoke with Christie and Evan Miga, the husband and wife team that started it all.
My name is Christie Miga and I am the production manager and producer for DPR. I have always had an interest in art even at an early age. I went to SCAD in Savannah to study art which was a life-changing experience. I lived with a photographer, film maker, sequential artists and a sound designer. I learned and watched them and became inspired to try many forms of art. I met Evan at SCAD and we eventually moved to Orlando together. Over the last 7 years, I have been involved in several area projects for artists, including Fringe and Orlando Museum of Art with my collage work, paintings and murals.
I’m Evan Miga, Creative Director of Dog Powered Robot. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts, literally out in the woods. My neighbor had a computer and graphic design software which I used to play with all time. I would play around manipulating photos and ended up teaching myself the programs. When it came time for college, I was going to become an engineer since it’s what my dad did until my mother insisted I pursue my work as a designer. She saw how much I loved it. After school I ended up working with Cartoon Network, doing shows like Squidbillies and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, as well as several commercials. As much fun as I was having, I wanted my portfolio to have more to show. A job offer led me and Christie here to Orlando where I’ve been creating all kinds of stuff since.
How did the idea for Dog Powered Robot come about?
Creative Mind Experiment was a sort of talent show at the 2010 Fringe. Artists were all given the same type of music. It was this somber, boring piece and I could tell that everyone was going to do something very dramatic with it. So I wanted to do something completely different just because I hated the music. I came up with this idea for a robot to wreck a cardboard city. At first I mentioned it to Christie and she was “Oh, ok, that’s cool.”, but then my brother-in-law, David Green, said “you should put your dog in it.”, which I interpreted as “in the robot”. I was so excited. When I told Christie about the idea of using Fisher, she cracked up and I knew it was good. I had already built the robot, based off of a little robot logo I’d been using for my company, MigaMe, so I just had to figure out how to fit Fisher in there. Then I got in touch with some other really talented friends; David Traver, who did the music and Britt Daley, who sings the vocals and it all fell into place.
When I got Evan and Fisher into the suit for the first time and stood back, it was like, “Holy shit, this is awesome.” I mean, the whole point of doing Dog Powered Robot in 2010 was to crash this dramatic song and to break up the monotony. If anything could do it, it was DPR. The Creative Mind Experiment audience had to sit through the same slow, somber song 5 or 6 times so when DPR busted out, people were shocked. I remember the first night, just before it was our turn: I put Fisher in the carrier, turned Evan around in “Big Blue” and sent him out. We had no idea what to expect.
check out the original performance
When you started working on the full length show, how did the story come together?
I’m not a writer. As I would come up with ideas for the show, I started making all these bar graphs and charts. I slaved over plot ideas for months. Eventually I put together an outline for the show, I had things like what I wanted the audience to say as they came out of the show and random things I wanted to have happen but not a real script. Finally, Christie saw me getting stressed out and suggested I call one of the writers who had sent me their resumes. To be honest, I was shocked people were sending me their resumes! I got in touch with Josh Geoghagan who had emailed me after seeing the 2010 short to offer help in any way since he loved the show. So, I met with him, liked him and gave him all of my charts, graphs and outlines and told him “Make a script”!
It wasn’t until we were out of town and listening to Josh talk about DPR on a radio interview that we found out he’d never written a script before! We were both genuinely shocked. This was after he had created the script for Dog Powered Robot and the History of the Future.
Highlights from Fringe ‘11
Clearly it worked! How were the other characters developed
It depends. I really wanted to have people come into the theater and instantly be entertained and happy. I knew I wanted to give out candy and have something going on during the time that patrons load in the theater. I came up with Lollibot who is this sweet, pink, candy robot that sometimes will twitch and start attacking people. Originally she was going to be Japanese but the actress who played her, Alyssa Foley, created a flirty, sensual character when she put the costume on and it really worked so we went that way. With Vic-16 and Commodore-64, I found these two helmets in the garbage, cleaned them up and set them together on my workbench. I stared at them for a few weeks until one day it just came to me. Actually, Vic-16 looked really scary in the beginning, his eyes were really creepy until we put the globes over them and then all of a sudden he was adorable.
The actors certainly contribute too. A lot of good jokes and personality traits for the robots came from the actors improvising during rehearsals. We’ll see something and say “Oh yeah, that’s going in the show!” I remember Josh and Katie saying “Ok, that was hilarious, do THAT every time!”
The mix of low tech and high tech is what really sets this show apart. What’s it like to build and maintain the bots?
The robots all start as a concept and a graphic sketch. Then it’s a lot of what happens to be lying around in the garage to fit that sketch. We did have to buy specific parts for some of the robots, like the wheel chair for Hawkingsbot, the voice modulation systems, piping, foam, some of the electronic components that we use, etc. I created DPR in one night and we’re still using the original costume to this day. It was completely different when we started making the other robots for the show though. The first one, Lollibot, took nearly a month to put together; there was a huge learning curve! The next one we were able to get down to about 2 weeks, and then from there we’ve been able to get it pretty streamlined, now that the trial and error is out of the way.
It was approximately 460 hours that went into building all the robots and the set pieces. The costumes do get pretty banged up from being worn and transported so much. The actors sweat A LOT and that takes its toll on the cardboard and our noses. We knew that the heat from the lights and the moisture inside the suits would just melt glue and tape, so had to use a lot of wire. Still, the robot build team was fixing them every night after the show then checking and re-checking before each performance. It was a lot.
How is it doing such a technically involved show in the Fringe theater atmosphere?
Oh my gosh it’s REALLY difficult. Obviously, you can’t leave anything in the theater. You only have 20 minutes to get everything in the theater and then 10 minutes to get everything back out for every show. You only get one rehearsal in the venue before your opening night and you can’t block the loading dock behind the theater during your performances. So, I just choreographed the load-in and the load-out. Everyone knew exactly what pieces they were in charge of, what they had to do and how much time they had to do it in. We even had a volunteer solely to stay with the truck during the show since it would have been impossible to find parking for the truck. It really helped us and it really helped our house tech, he loved us. We’d get to the venue and he just relaxed because we took care of everything. We got so good at the load-in and load-out that we always ended up with 5-7 minutes extra to do warm-up games. That’s why I’m so proud of winning the “Techie Award” last year.
The real star is Fisher, has he always shown an interest in acting?
Oh! He loves it! He’s such a smart little guy. And he’s always loved being in carriers. Fisher’s really comfortable in being in different bags and packs. We make sure he’s comfortable all the time during a show, he always has water and treats backstage; he is a diva. Plus, we keep him on stage for only a short amount of time. Most of the time having him be a part of the show is not too much trouble but during one of the Fringe performances last year, I had him backstage with me. It was in the middle of the show and he starts signaling that he has to go do his business. I had to sneak him outside and walk him around trying to get him to go. It was getting really close to his scene, he finally goes and we run back stage, I give him some water, pop him into the DPR suit and send him out on stage. I think that was the performance where he started to fall asleep on stage.
As a puppy, I would take him to work with me in a little back pack on my scooter. He was like a little mascot, sitting on my desk and everyone that would come by would pet him. So he’s really sociable and loves to be around people. Though, when he’s in “Big Blue”, I am able to keep one arm on his back so I can pet him to keep him calm. It’s pretty funny; outside of the robot there’s all this chaos and wild music and alarms going off. The robot is crashing into buildings but inside I’m stroking his fur and (in a soothing voice) “You’re a good boy, yes you are! You’re a good, good boy!” It’s a little creepy.
Didn’t you get kicked out of the House of Blues?
Ha! Yes. Andy Matchett and the Minks contacted us and asked us to be in their show at House of Blues, of course we said yes. He did not, however, tell the HOB stage manager about us because he knew she would say “no”. Well, we get there and she’s already unhappy to see us because we have the cardboard city and a giant blue robot suit. She made sure to tell us that she’s not going to help us load it all in. That’s fine, we’re used to doing it ourselves anyway. The whole time I had Fisher in a carrier that looks like a purse, she had no idea he was there. So the show goes on and she’s not happy we are there so we stay in the green room the whole time. Finally, our show time comes up and we start putting out the city and Evan gets into the costume. Evan gets on stage and I follow with my “purse”. I secretly place Fisher in the suit, Evan turns around to the crowd, who goes wild. The stage managers eyes go wide and she starts yelling “Is that a fucking dog on my stage?!” As soon as our 1 minute bit finishes, Evan comes off stage and as I’m getting Fisher out of the suit, the stage manager comes over and starts screaming at me that we are kicked out and had to leave! Well, I just put Fisher back in the purse-carrier, went right back up to the green room and watched the rest of the show. It was awesome.
We really felt like rock stars!
What can you tell us about the show for this year’s upcoming fringe fest?
Well, we of course have DPR and Lollibot returning this year. Lollibot will be in a lot more of the show this year. She was such a hit with the audience last year and they wanted more of her so we are giving them more. We have a few other bot’s returning with some very cool upgrades, as well as welcoming some brand new characters. At this point, we are not planning on returning to Fringe again so we’re going out with a bang, pulling out all the stops! We are in the Orange venue, the largest theater at Fringe, which seats 320 people. We have very tall ceilings, stairs, multiple entrances and we will definitely be using every inch of the space!
We’re also working on some very cool, top secret technology that we’re keeping under wraps until the show opens
If you want to get a sneak peak, then be at the Stardust Lounge in Orlando for the official Dog Powered Robot Fundraiser on Feb 25, from 7-11pm. Tickets are a $7 donation at the door and the first 50 people in line get a special, limited edition collectors button. Along with performances by the robots, and Andy Matchett and The Minks, there will be digital palm reading, electro-fortune telling, and other ways for you to hand over your money to the robot overlords. Check out http://www.dogpoweredrobot.com/fundraiser.php for more info, and to buy pre-sale tickets.