Click to enlarge

  • PHOTO BY TIFFANY BYRD HARRISON
  • Emily Marsh plays Emily Connor in the theatrical presentation of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, as part of the “Time Bubble Tour”.

Emily Marsh knows how to be successful in a job interview. The problem, as she interviewed Joel Hodgson, the creator of the cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, was how to stand out from the many, many, many other vocal puppeteers who would suck Hodgson’s head.

The adrenaline was skyrocketing, Marsh said. And the inspiration struck.

“Joel, the show meant a lot to me growing up,” she told Hodgson. “My father, my brother. But my mom, I have to be honest, on the other hand, ”she pauses for dramatic effect. “When I told her I was auditioning for it, I said, ‘This show toured nationally?'”

Indeed, he did. In fact, four of them, to date. The latest, the “Time Bubble Tour”, arrives at the Auditorium Theater in Rochester on Saturday, November 6 at 8 pm.

And there is an additional surprise for mom. His daughter the puppeteer is not only the central character of the touring theatrical version, but as the TV show returns for its 13th season, she takes on the role of the test subject trapped in space forced to watch movies. B tacky.

Faithful “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans can take a quick bathroom break for the next six paragraphs while we explain the concept to those unfamiliar with the show.

He was born in 1988 on Minneapolis TV, with Hodgson playing the role of a janitor on the Earth-orbiting Love Satellite, imprisoned by a pair of mad scientists who measure the effects that really bad movies have on the human brain. With breaks for comedy pieces, the silhouettes of Hodgson and three puppets – robots Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and GPC (known at the time as Gypsy) – can be seen sitting in front of a movie while that they make sarcastic comments.

Funny reviews abound, like Hodgson’s mocking “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” a classic in the MST3K lore: “Every frame in this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.”

Over the years, the broadcast orbit of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” reached The Comedy Channel, which became Comedy Central, before moving to The Sci-Fi Channel (now known as SyFy).

Undeniably questionable as its source may be (the writer, director, producer and star of “Manos” claimed it was the worst movie ever made), “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was nominated for Emmy Awards and the CableACE Awards, and won a Peabody Award in 1993. “TV Guide” called MST3K one of the greatest cult TV shows of all time, and Time called it one of the top 100 shows. television of all time.

Then the sarcasm died down: the show was canceled in 1999 and remained dormant.

Until the miracle of crowdfunding. Fans of the show have contributed nearly $ 6 million through Kickstarter – the largest ever fundraiser by the online platform for a movie or TV show. This allowed the revival of MST3K in 2017 on Netflix for two seasons. And now another Kickstarter campaign – this time raising $ 6.5 million – has given the show the promise of new life; it will be distributed through an online platform called Gizmoplex. Marsh will appear in five of these new shows.

With the celebration of mediocrity “The Time Bubble Tour” now on the road, I called Marsh, who was locked in the darkness of a hotel room in York, PA.

“I think the appeal of the show is that, well, there’s that desire to watch bad movies,” she says, searching for an answer that doesn’t sound like admitting guilt for a crime. “Which, come to think of it, is something I’ve always been, I’ve always had a draw. Like the other day, I was watching something terrible with a friend: “We have to watch this, this is so bad.” And in the end, they just turned to me and said, ‘It was really bad, why are we looking at this?’ ”

The response: “It’s so bad it’s hilarious, so I think that impetus is there.” said Marsh.

And who can resist, watching a really bad movie with friends, the urge to make sarcastic comments?

“Adding that layer, if your friends are these brilliant comedians,” she says. “And that just elevates it all up.”

Sarcasm was spoken of in the Marsh House while she was growing up in Virginia, where there are “more dead than alive in Arlington County,” Marsh says. Aside from the charms of Arlington National Cemetery, when mom left home, dad made cheesy eggs and he and his daughter watched “Mystery Science Theater 3000” together. Real, although unusual, father-daughter bond.

In college, Marsh studied theater and puppet theater, so “studied” is the right word there. Probably not. Most people don’t study puppets, they play with them. In his senior year, Marsh worked on “Avenue Q,” the Tony Award-winning musical with a cast that included humans and puppets.

Puppetry is indeed a career. “It turns out you get a job as a puppeteer,” she says, “and then there’s no going back. ”

So Marsh thought it was just another human-puppet encounter gig in the summer of 2019 when she interviewed Hodgson for the MST3K tour.

She got the job without realizing that she would be playing a living character and not a puppet. “And I looked at the script and I said… ‘I don’t think I have a puppet… wait… what’s going on?’” She said.

Too late. But how could she not know? Because, she says, during the interview, Hodgson never said what the job was. And Marsh was so anxious to land the job she never asked for.

“You go, like, ‘I can jump that high! And, ‘Yes, I’m ready to start work tomorrow!’ “, she says.

Click to enlarge
Emily Marsh appears on stage alongside (left to right) GPC (Yvonne Freese), Tom Servo (Conor McGiffin) and Crow T. Robot (Nate Begle).  - PHOTO BY BRANDI MORRIS

  • PHOTO BY BRANDI MORRIS
  • Emily Marsh appears on stage alongside (left to right) GPC (Yvonne Freese), Tom Servo (Conor McGiffin) and Crow T. Robot (Nate Begle).

Marsh is the fourth actor as a human trapped on the Satellite of Love. The first wife too. And she plays with robots a little differently from guys. They were the parental figures. Crow, Tom Servo and GPC needed adult advice.

But as Marsh sees his dynamic with the characters differently. “The robots almost need to take care of her a little bit,” she says. “Which, you know, is a dysfunction. The dysfunction is increasing, because these guys shouldn’t be taking care of anyone.

She plays it with the naivety of anyone who finds themselves in an unexpected situation, whether stranded on a satellite in space or thrown in front of a television camera.

“Which is very much the reality of the situation,” Marsh says. “Where I grew up with the show and I didn’t expect to be a host on the show, then all of a sudden, ‘Wait, I’m on the GROUND, what’s going on? past ? ”

“What is happening?” she said again. “Art reflects life in this way.”

The tour show is a bit different from the TV version. The silhouettes sitting in the theater seats in front of the film have been replaced by Marsh and the robots sitting at a desk to the right of the stage. This is how the audience can see for themselves that it is not a prerecorded piece. It’s Marsh and the living robots.

Living robots. Is it a thing?

And then there’s the movie itself that they’re going to watch:. “Contact.”

“It’s pretty dreadful,” Marsh said. As a bonus, among the characters in the film is an evil ventriloquist dummy, whom she admits to being a real fear of childhood that marked her in adulthood.

All traditional MST3K tropes. But “Making Contact” is not typical of the series’ cinematic targets. Rather than featuring stumbling costumed monsters, this film was made for a mainstream release by Roland Emmerich. Emmerich would go on to produce major films such as “Independence Day”. But for “Making Contact”, his first major American film, he seems to channel, in a light way, summer blockbusters such as “ET”, “The Goonies” and “Poltergeist”. Movies built around “a bunch of weird kids,” Marsh says.

“It’s basically, like, four Spielberg movies all broken together,” she says.

There are qualities that a big budget movie like “Making Contact” shares with the good business ethic of “Manos: The Hands of Fate”.

“There’s just such a real and serious effort, which I think is the best for MST3K movies,” Marsh says. “I know Joel always said they avoided comedy movies, they avoided movies that tried to be camp or dumb on their own. It’s a little hard to laugh at something that’s already laughing at itself.

Indeed, when it comes to serious intentions gone wrong, “Making Contact” speaks for itself.

“There are things that are even so hilarious that we don’t have to say anything about them, and that’s just as good,” says Marsh. “The movie itself makes this whole episode entertaining.”

Yet, whatever the budget, there is one important commonality shared by the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” targets. “I know I’ve spent a lot of time debating it with friends,” Marsh says. “What makes an ideal MST3K movie? ”

Marsh noticed this when she returned for her follow-up job interview with Hodgson. He recalled with appreciation how, when they first met, she offered her mother’s opinion of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as undeserving of a nationwide tour.

And Marsh then felt compelled to modify her mother’s criticism with that extra, very important adjective.

“Well, Joel, now that you’ve mentioned it, I have to be honest,” Marsh told Hodgson. “She said, ‘How did this stupid show get on a nationwide tour?'”

Jeff Spevak is the Arts & Life editor of WXXI. He can be contacted at [email protected]

click on the picture
champion-story-banner.gif