In Show Your Work, BIPOC theater-makers provide insight into their favorite creations. Think of it as a guided tour inside the artists’ minds, with the artists themselves as your tour guides. In this series you will see artists deconstructing scenes, elaborating on their designs, sharing acting techniques, and allowing us to see them at their creative best. We get out of their way and they show their work.
In this installment Gamal ElSawah, Conrado Falco III, and Sajda Waite introduce us to Wormholes, the sci-fi comedy they created, starred in, and produced during quarantine. The trio are roommates and the founders of the theatrical company Showdogs NYC Theater Collective who found themselves in need of a creative output when their first show was postponed due to the pandemic.
Although there are myriad series about the lives of zany NYC roommates, there are none like Wormholes, in which the artists combine their love for witty dialogue, the comedic sci-fi they grew up watching, and their endless need to create. ElSawah and Waite play roommates trying to declutter their apartments. Lucky for them, they have a handy wormhole through which they can dispose of the things that don’t spark joy anymore. But wormholes too can cause commotion in apartment buildings, and the one from the title gives constant headaches to their superintendent played by Falco.
The first two episodes are now available on their YouTube Channel, new episodes will be premiering each Wednesday. For their take on Show Your Work, they let us become flies on the proverbial wall as they have a chat about how they put together one of their favorite shots in the first episode.
Gamal: Alright y’all. We’re a trio of theatre artists. The pandemic hits, theatre shuts down, and what do we do?
Sajda: Make a web series about a couple of roommates living with an interdimensional wormhole in their closet, of course.
Conrado: That’s right, but you’re burying the lede. We were working on a play that was supposed to open in April. We were already in rehearsals when we were all called to stay inside.
Gamal: Don’t re-open those wounds, please. The important thing is we made a whole show that we can actually share with people. So let’s talk tentacles!
Sajda: Love suction!
Gamal: One of the crowning achievements of our show’s first episode was our tentacle choreo- we used the thing twice. The first time it showed up was in the fourth scene of our pilot.
…How did we land on a tentacle again?
Conrado: Well, we wanted it to make it clear from the beginning that our show was as much sci-fi as it was a comedy. So we needed some weird shit to happen. But I don’t know… why tentacles?
Sajda: Cheapest thing on Ebay I believe.
Conrado: Ha, that sounds about right.
Sajda: But really I think it seemed like a proper visual gag that would be ridiculous enough to get a good laugh while also showing the side effects of having a wormhole in your apartment.
Conrado: Right. We really wanted to come out of the gate strong with all this wormhole stuff, but that ended up being a lot of work because it was the first episode and we had to set up so many other things – the premise, the characters. It was a lot.
Gamal: Writing is hard! Thank God we’re so good at it! But, yeah, we had a lot to convey especially in that first tentacle scene. We had to introduce Gazpacho, that he was the building’s super, that Salman didn’t like him, and that the wormhole was causing major problems for the whole building.
Sajda: Truly introducing one of our main characters and the central conflict of the episode in a matter of, I don’t know, seconds?!?! Genius, succinct!
Conrado: Not only that, we also wanted to establish that they were the only ones in the building with a wormhole in their apartment, so we came up with some subtle exposition in the line “you’re the only ones with a wormhole in your apartment.” Silly, I know, but it always gets a laugh.
Gamal: Writing the scene was easy compared to shooting it, though- should we dive into that?
Sajda: You get a water pun! And you get a water pun!
Gamal: I got wet.
Conrado: So, if I remember correctly the tentacle was a late addition to that scene. First it was going to be just water pouring onto Gamal to signify that the Wormhole was leaking, and then eventually we were like “well, we have this tentacle…”
Sajda: Might as well get our money’s worth and throw in a little foreshadowing here for Gazpacho’s impending mutation.
Gamal: Although, I’d like to say on the record that I originally wanted to use an actual octopus from the fish market.
Sajda: But I knew PETA would have a field day, so that was a no go. So Gamal’s second idea was to use tentacle fingers.
Conrado: Oh, yeah! I remember that. He found these little wormy fingers – and I guess I was gonna wear them with a fingerless glove or something like that? Honestly, I’m happy we went with the green Cthulu arm. That way we could use it in both scenes.
Gamal: That’s cool, but back to me getting wet… Tell the class what you did to me.
Sajda: Well, as director of photography, I figured the best way to set up the shot was to get pretty tight on Gams so that Coco could hover directly behind the door and pour some nice NYC tap water over his head while stroking his cheek avec tentacle.
Conrado: The big problem was we had to get the shot right on the first try, because once Gamal’s shirt got wet we would have to wait for it to dry. We simply didn’t have the budget to buy multiple identical shirts. So there was a lot of pressure…and rehearsals!
Gamal: Yes. So to make sure we could get it in one take, we just… kept doing it. In other clothes. To be honest, I feel like Conrado kept missing on purpose just so he could keep dumping water on me.
Conrado: Listen, I couldn’t see you from behind the door. I was literally sticking out my hand and hoping for the best.
Gamal: Are you there, Hollywood? It’s me, Gamal. I do all my own stunts.
Sajda: Bada bing bada boom! A little iMovie magic and some zap sounds to seal the deal!
Conrado: Zaps sounds – very important. We kept watching the scene in the edit and thinking something’s not quite there. Then I think Gamal came up with the idea of adding a little zap-wormhole sound when the tentacle pops in. It really ties the whole thing together.
Gamal: Never underestimate the power of post-production sound effects.
Sajda: Never underestimate the power of three theatre nerds with nothing but an iPhone and a dream!
Conrado: Yeah okay, I think we’re done here.
Gamal: Wanna see more wacky sci-fi practicals? Tune into Wormholes every Wednesday on IGTV (@wormholes.tv) and the ShowdogsNYC Youtube Channel starting October 14th! Buh-bye!