The League of S.T.E.A.M. Interview
Trip Hope: I play the character Albert Able, Esq. - archivist of supernatural relics and a spectral specialist. I'm the executive producer of the The League of S.T.E.A.M. I'm an actor and independent film producer.
Duane Matthews: I play the character Jasper Mooney - expert tracker, sharp shooter and werewolf hunter. I'm a college art professor of 30+ years and I do pirate re-enactments on tall mast ships.
Q: For anyone who is not familiar with your work, give us a little bit of a rundown about your group and what you do.
Trip: The League of S.T.E.A.M. is a group of artists, performers, and inventors who take our audience back to a time of intrepid adventures, bridging the gap between the supernatural and the scientific; we are monster hunters from the Victorian era. We're best known for our award-winning steampunk web series The Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M., which chronicles our comedic monster-hunting misadventures. The League of S.T.E.A.M. specializes in interactive entertainment, performing with a fusion of fantastic technology, interactive demonstrations, and theatrical trickery, and our live events showcase a mesmerizing array of fully functional gadgets and props meticulously designed to enchant and entertain audiences of all ages. Our mission is to create unforgettable entertainment, telling stories through a unique mix of interactive live shows, a popular web series, steampunk podcasts, and interactive fan club. We've performed live shows at conventions, such as Wild Wild West Con, Steam Con, Dragon Con, Vid Con, Nova Albion and for special events at E3 and Walt Disney Imagineering. We've also done steampunk music videos and co-productions with Panic! At The Disco, Justin Bieber, and Epic Meal Time.
Duane: The League of S.T.E.A.M. is a group of ten performers that have created a world in which we seek to manage monsters and things that go bump in the night (of course these adventures take place in Victorian times). We are also a production company capable of prop fabrication, costuming, and an array of artistic endeavors. The League of S.T.E.A.M. brings it's world to various audiences with live stage shows, Victorian themed parlor shows, a tent show and our web series. We also attend many conventions and festivals, and we recently participated in helping to host the IAWTV Awards and The Geekie Awards show.
Q: You guys have been around since 2008. Since then, we've seen a huge increase in Steampunk fandom and it's a lot more "mainstream" than when you started (Steampunk costumes at Halloween stores, etc). How do you feel this has affected your group and Steampunk as a whole? Do you like that there is a bigger audience for it now, or do you feel like it's lost some of it's original charm?
Trip: Our group was into steampunk before the big explosion and we've been along for the ride as TV shows, music videos, conventions and fashion have delved into steampunk culture. Overall, I feel most of it has been positive. I think it's exposed whole new audiences to steampunk and that more people have become involved in the community. However, in some cases, there's been a silly 'jumping on the band wagon' where online merchants are willing to tag all their items as 'steampunk' when it has absolutely nothing to do with the genre what-so-ever. I think the charm is still there, for those who are genuine & creative - one of the coolest things about steampunk is the DIY factor and the detailed craftsmanship of quality steampunk artisans. I will say the Halloween store costumes typically have very low quality and very little craft – so that's not so great. BUT if it inspires someone to say 'what's this?' and to get excited and begin exploring steampunk, I think that's wonderful!
Duane: For the most part, the League is encouraged with the growth (mainstreaming) of Steampunk. Yes, there can be a "watering down” of sorts, but the real under pinnings of the culture are strong and healthy. Moreover, we want to reach an ever growing audience. We have fun with presenting our world and we want to share it with others - the more, the merrier.
Q: Where did you originally come up with the concept for your group and your stage shows? It combines so many aspects of things that I love, from circus, to Steampunk, to zombies, costumes, music and gadgets - what goes into the planning of putting on such a spectacle?
Duane: The concept of our group came about right around 2008. Nick Baumann, Robin Blackburn, James Lavrakas and friends, cooked up an idea for Victorian ghosts busters. The women made fantastic glowing ghost costumes and the men designed and built the equipment to locate and eradicate said spooks. These actions took place at the Labyrinth of Jareth, one of the biggest costume events in Hollywood. In very short order other members were included to the group in order to hunt and subdue other creatures. We first started shooting the our monster hunting videos to share with our growing fan base and that soon led into developing our stage shows. Our stage shows serve to entice viewers into our world. These shows were developed for cons and festivals that we were being asked to attend. A lot of work goes into our live shows and it begins with where it will be seen - Will we need a new creature? Is there a need to build new gadgets? Then we write the show and of course, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Q: All of you clearly have strong creative backgrounds besides the League of S.T.E.A.M. What are your day jobs, and how did you all get so talented? How did you all meet and become a group together?
Duane: Yes, we do have an eclectic group of people who make up our team. Without going into the specifics of each of the member of The League, these are the day jobs we have - We have three educators, teaching all levels of school in the fields of science, theater and art, professional prop makers who've worked with Jim Henson and Walt Disney Imagineering, film makers, designers and illustrators, post production TV editors, costumers and leather workers - these are but some of day jobs we have. I would say that our talents come about from a dollop of luck and loads of hard work. We (as a group) came together through many of us being friends first. Most of us belonged to some other acting/costuming group and developed our relationships there. Pirates can be blamed for many of us knowing one another.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your gadgets. The design, the concept, how you build them, how you come up with them.
Trip: Our team includes talented costumers, fabricators and artists. Nick Baumann, who plays Crackitus Potts, designs and fabricates many of our most impressive props, such as our net gun, plunger gun, ghost pack, kraken tentacle, monsters, etc. Nick has an amazing background in foam fabrication and has worked in Jim Henson's workshop and on major movies. Andrew Fogel has a strong background in prop fabrication and he's created many signature pieces, like his jump pack and hand-cranked chainsaw. Conrad Wright Jr. is an expert leatherworker, Duane Matthews is a talented sculptor, Glenn Freund is a great builder, Robin Blackburn is a talented costume designer, Russell Isler is a VFX artist, Kate Walsh is a great production designer, and Sheyne Fleischer is a great costumer - we all contribute our own costuming skills. We create all our props and costumes ourselves in our own private home-based workshops.
Duane: The most important thing about our gadgets is that they actually function. We try to give our gadgets a uniform look that fits the aesthetic of the League (a quasi Rube-Goldberg) - large and humorous. Nick built and designed much of the equipment in the early days of The League. The design and building of new gadgets have become more a team effort, but Nick still has input and approval of what is being attempted. The concept of the gadgets are often related to how they will be used in a show, the web series or how they help define a character. Most of our stuff comes out of the garage, be it Nick or Andrew's. Sometimes our living room becomes the inventor's lab.
Q: How did you get involved with Panic! At the Disco and what was it like being in their music video?
Trip: When the Grammy-nominated band Panic! at the Disco wanted to feature steampunk as a main element in the music video premiere of their highly-anticipated single, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa”, they contacted The League of S.T.E.A.M. for input on realizing their vision. We provided props, gadgets, costumes, advice and made up almost all of the background performers in the video. Produced by Brandon Bonfiglio and directed by Shane Drake, the video features a spectacular Steampunk style, much of which was influenced and created by your very own League of S.T.E.A.M! It was a pleasure to work with Brendon and Spencer.
Duane: We became involved with Panic! at the Disco's video through Nick and his connection to one of the producers of the video. It was great fun working on this video and both Brendon and Spencer were down to earth guys and easy to work with. The director, Shane Drake, knew what he was doing and made it easy to follow his concept. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Tell us about your awesome web series. It's now into it's 3rd season and has been successfully funded through Kickstarter to bring even bigger and better things. What has it been like getting that kind of support from the community, and where do you see the show going in the future?
Trip: The web series is about steampunk ghost-busters and monster-hunters on crazy adventures to either eliminate monster threats or investigate supernatural phenomenon. Think Jules Verne meets Wild Wild West meets Scooby-Doo. It's a comedy adventure filled with colorful characters, fantastical functional steampunk gadgets, impressive costuming and lots of practical monster effects. Our first season was mostly a monster of the week storyline. In the second season the audience discovers that there's an organization behind the unusually high number of monster encounters. We were blown away by the support of friends and fans contributing to our season three Kickstarter campaign! We raised over $30,000, which will fund at least nine new episodes. We've announced we'll be doing an adventure with a giant rock monster and a musical episode. This season will include more fantastical steampunk monster hunting gadgets, more monsters & bigger monsters, new guest stars, more appearances by friends, fans, and notables within the steampunk community, cool new locations and higher production quality.
Duane: The web series started out as a seat-of-the-pants operation. The first season was shot on a shoe-string budget (what we had in our pockets) and it was a bit of rough and tumble (not tons of pre-production work), but it taught us a lot. Our season two was far more structured and professional - we had generated some money and spent more time in all aspects of making the series. The support we got for season two and now even more so with season three has been overwhelming. We are determined to make the very best series that we can. We are currently writing and developing the series and it looks great. The future is hard to foresee, but if a season four is out there, then our fans could expect further development of the League characters, more creatures, and of course more guest stars.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience working with the League?
Trip: Since we've done so many shows, episodes, and conventions, a lot blends together – and we've really had some wonderful times with friends, fans and fellow artists. For me, my most memorable moments have been when we're all deeply involved in a project and everyone is working as a team – such as rehearsing and performing our live show for Wild Wild West Con or shooting an all-hands-on-deck web series episode like Dead End. Also, we're very lucky not only to be a creative team, but we share a long lasting friendship. I cherish the moments when we gather in a tight circle for a round of shared drinks and words of thanks in something we call 'tradition'.
Duane: For me, one of the most memorable experiences was being on stage at the IAWTV Awards show. Four members of the League (Trip, Glenn, Andrew and myself) were there to help with presentations and The League was nominated in a number of categories as well. The group won two awards, for Best Costuming and Best Makeup & Special Effects. All of us being up on stage to receive those awards was amazing. I imaged to some degree, what it would be like to win an Oscar, for at that moment, I couldn't imagine it being any better.
Q: What conventions and events can we see you at in the future?
Trip: We're always at San Diego Comic Con! Depending on our schedule, you'll most likely see us at Dragon Con, Stan Lee's Comikaze, Steam Con, Wild Wild West Con, Calico Ghost Town, Wonder Con, Vid Con, and Nova Albion. We will continue to do live shows, but the best way to see us this year is online in the third season of our web series.
Q: Where can fans follow your work?
Anyone can follow our work on the following sites -
The League of S.T.E.A.M. Official Website
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February 07 2014