Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Casey Ross who currently is displayed on card number 2976, from the Superstars of 2018 Collection. Casey is a veteran playwright and an avid video game enthusiast. Casey has been a big influence in the gaming community the last several years and enjoys traveling to events and talking all things Donkey Kong. Casey created a musical called “ArcadeFire! – The Redemption of Billy Mitchell”. This once in a lifetime play featured the recreation of the ever popular “King of Kong” with a twist. Most recently Casey worked on a play called “Copyright/Safe” that follows a group of superheroes through the death of their creator and their uncertain future. Follow Casey on her YouTube Channel.
When did you begin your love for video games?
I played with my uncle ‘B’ (My Uncle Bill, who ironically enough played a lot of Donkey Kong). B was more of a dad to me than an uncle as my biological father is simply ‘not in the picture.’ We played Nintendo all the time, hours of it. Clay Fighter, Donkey Kong Country, the Disney games, Primal Rage, all big hits. It was a big part of my childhood. He recently, very recently, passed away after a long fight with cancer, I talked about playing video games in part of the eulogy. He knew exactly who Billy was when I started the show, and he did get to see the premiere and have dinner with Bill. I am, to this day, thankful from the bottom of my heart for Billy Mitchell sitting at a pub with my grandma, mom, cast of actors, and uncle.
What is a great story from filming the Billy Mitchell play that many people may not know?
I think a few people have heard this one, as Bill tells it a bunch, but it’s just the best ‘road’ story we have. The FIRST night Bill was in town, after we did our dress rehearsal we went over to Tappers, a local arcade, to have dinner and wait to open the show. The nature of Fringe is kind of like a con, there’s events every hour, 60 shows, several venues, so it’s not unheard of to have your final rehearsal, then have to open the show, which was the case for us that year. So, we were just killing time at the arcade between events. All of my props, costumes, programs, sound cues (kind of a big deal for the musical part…) were in the trunk of my boyfriend’s car - remember that. We had about 4 hours to kill between our early rehearsal and show. So, Bill got to playing Donkey Kong. And. It just didn’t stop. He was having a really awesome game and leaned over to tell me to stop playing at a certain score, but also ask how much time we had before the next event (I didn’t know how long a game of Donkey Kong would be for a player like Billy Mitchell at the time, so, I said we had plenty of time. We didn’t.) Bill ends the game at 1,047,500 (the 500 was my fault, I didn’t catch the score fast enough…) and then I saw that we had 8 minutes to get everything in my boyfriend’s car, myself, and Billy to the show.
Not only did I have to get Billy, who had acquired a crowd, out of the arcade, we had to drive to the theatre (thankfully 5 minutes away) and set up the show. My boyfriend rushed to pull the car around and we were waiting outside. He pulls up, and we go to open the trunk - to put Bill’s bag and whatnots in...and realizes when he pulled up, he had locked the keys...in the trunk, putting merch and stuff that was set up at Tappers in as Bill signed a last autograph. So. That means, the costumes, props, everything, and US are unable to get to the opening show. That we sort of advertised that the REAL Billy was coming to.
Theatre is what I do. I really care about my shows. My boyfriend knows this. He knows I become a ‘show monster’ and he knew what I was thinking. So, we picked up a brick we found on the sidewalk and threw it through his back window to pull the center seat out and pop the trunk. We sped to the show, Billy Mitchell seated on broken glass with a prop blanket thrown over it, probably very afraid of the miscreants he had just met. Walter was given some of the glass and the brick for archival purposes.
Who would be another gamer that you would like to do a musical on and why?
I actually have 2 versions of Arcadefire, as Fringe shows are one-hour pieces. When we staged the show outside of the festival, it was in an extended version that included much more history of the characters and the ‘early days.’ In that, I got to write much more about Walter meeting Billy and Brian and the forming of Twin Galaxies and all that. I also know Walter has a ton of music that could be lent to that history (we even added a song in long version where Walter played guitar!), so I would have to say Walter.
I did also start a web series musical I was going to put out on YouTube during the pandemic called Kong Kourt...but some threats flew my direction over it, so I abandoned the project...it was funny as hell though. (And no, the threats were not from Mr. Mitchell…*he* has a sense of humor about silly musicals.)
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I played through all of Sword and Shield and New Pokémon Snap. I really like Pokémon games, have since I was a kid, but the Switch games have been relaxing to play...when I can. I am also very excited to get into my Mario games for Switch. I play through things SLOW as I barely play, but my boyfriend got me a good starter catalogue of Nintendo stuff for my birthday, so I’m set for 2 years on games to play. I’m still working on catching them all in Pokémon. Shout out to Jimbo Slice for trading me my Appleton and Ponyta.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Not at all! And certainly not for the gaming industry.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
I first met Walter at the premiere of Arcadefire! [The Redemption of Billy Mitchell], a musical I wrote - and premiered at the IndyFringe theatre festival. We have a great photo with the real Billy and actor and the real Walter and actor on stage at the end of the show that I really love.
Which console company is your favorite and why? Nintendo, Sony, Sega, or Microsoft?
Nintendo, hands down. I love the characters, again, my living room is all Nintendo merch...I love a good iconic character, and, for me, Nintendo just has that. Mario, Bowser, Donkey Kong, the whole gang.
What does it take to be a successful playwriter?
Tenacity and a bit of fearlessness. I write sort of out there niche stuff. So, a lot of times I’m worried an idea won’t land or the cast and crew will think I’ve lost it. I always strive to take the craziest ideas and have a point about the human experience within the madness. You’re putting your ideas, and your feelings onto a stage to be loved or hated. And critique can hurt, no matter how many times you do it. I find my courage in my troupe of actors. I’ve been working with some of them for a decade, they are truly family, and the fact that they’ve given so many of my world’s life is all the push I need to write the next one.
Do you believe some video Games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
Since the dawn of time entertainment has found extremes. Look at Shakespeare plays. In Titus Andronicus, Titus cuts off a woman’s hands and then her tongue. And that’s not the character’s last scene...she’s in a lot more of the play...so this bloodied, stump-handed woman, without a tongue is just peppered throughout the story. In Lear, they pop out a man’s eyes on stage. Or even go back to the Greeks, in Oedipus he stabs his own eyes out on stage. It’s a human thing to seek extremes to get to a point of catharsis. Be it a play, a game, a film - that doesn’t mean everyone is going to see Oedipus Rex and emulate stabbing their eyes out...and a kid playing Grand Theft Auto isn’t guaranteed to steal a car and run over a hooker, either. Extremes and seeking them are human nurture, especially in telling stories to get a reaction.
Are video games good for relieving stress?
Oh, yeah. They are immersive, an escape, a story, a good game can be just as effective as a movie, music or play in creating escape for the participant.
Do you remember your first video game you played and what do you remember about it?
I had an Atari when I was about 6. I remember Q*Bert and, yes, the E.T. game, but the first game I really chose to play was Super Mario World. My living room pays that fact major homage as I have most every Lego Mario set and question mark block lamps.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I think new games are more story focused and long-term commitment focused than the older games that focused on the game mechanic and skill building it takes to get further in the game. It’s more of an experience than a simple game anymore. It’s very different. It’s a culture more so than a hobby. Classic games were a quick, by the quarter distraction. I think only mobile games sort of replicate this ‘old game’ experience, big games now, are a full experience that really pull in the audience for countless hours, days, years even.
Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?
My favorites are Boo and Bowser. I’ll speak on Bowser, as I feel like he’s more of a character with a story. Boo is just a cute little ghost, that I love to collect toys of. Bowser is the bad guy, but he’s funny. He’s determined, he’s going to kidnap that princess in nearly every game he’s in. I think he’s lovable too. He’s a dad after all. Any great bad guy can be redeemed and team up with the hero as well, I really liked Bowser’s Fury, wherein you are truly saving Bowser. The Mario characters have become so iconic, that I think they almost bear a self-awareness, an awareness that they are video game characters, Mario is the hero and Bowser is the villain, but neither force is truly a threat to the other, I think it’s a Batman and Joker bromance, they need each other to have a game. That’s why there’s almost this vibe that Bowser has a life outside of his duties to the game. A family, age, development. Shoot, maybe I read too much into characters, but I’ve always been taken by characters who become cultural icons...my last play dealt with this quite a bit.
What springs to mind when you hear the name ‘Donkey Kong?
Rivalry. Mitchell Vs. Wiebe. Screaming controversies. Great neck ties.
What is your favorite single player game and favorite multiplayer game?
Single player, probably Pokémon Snap and any story mode Pokémon titles. I had a lot of fun with Goldeneye multiplayer parties. I also love Mario Party and Mario Kart.
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
I think a SNES style King of Kong game would be precious. I’d gladly design the characters. You have to play as Mitchell or Wiebe. Or maybe even Kuh. Platforming through Fun Spot with the tapes. A Billy stealth level where he doesn’t want to be spotted by Wiebe. The possibilities are endless, again, if you have a sense of humor.
What other types of hobbies are you interested in?
Well, theatre obviously. Theatre is what I have to do. I am also a cartoonist and comic book lover. I now work as a graphic designer, so my love of drawing and visual arts really helped guide me into a much happier career than slinging coffee. I was a double major both in writing and visual arts, so I love to draw, as well. I also love vintage toys, especially animatronic ones, send me your Furbys. And, if anyone out there ever finds a Rolf the Wolf, from the Rock-A-Fire Explosion, let me know...I really want one for my home toy/arcade room.
Are you still involved with producing plays, and what projects are you working on?
Oh yes, I’ve written plays professionally since 2007. I recently did a new play of mine called Copyright/Safe that follows a group of superheroes through the death of their creator and their uncertain future. It was very well received, and we are filming it to stream the full show to out-of-town friends and folks who were nervous to brave a crowd during the pandemic. I am currently stage managing and painted the set for a friend of mine’s new show that focuses on the Roman Emperor Nero and Seneca the philosopher as his political advisor, we opened that last night. I have a repertory theatre troupe with whom I produce shows regularly. We have a 10-minute play festival coming up and surely Fringe, again, in the summer - I just have to get to writing something!
Where do you see video gaming in the next 20 years?
I think, with a recent job upgrade, and a more adult age, I will be able to gain some budget for my theatre company. It would mean a lot to me to do Arcadefire! at Fun Spot. Brian Kuh occasionally crashes at my home when he’s on his arcade travels and knows about this and has mentioned it to the owner and staff. It would take some doing, and I would want to have the equipment and full-scale show to do it as I see it, BIG SCALE, I also wish to run it in a proper theatre so I can really do it up. I think I have a couple big events in me left, and I hope more people could embrace the show - it’s not what a lot of people think. It’s got a very good heart and it’s very much a show for gamers. I’ve also considered, and desire to bring it to the IVGHOF in Iowa. There are all sorts of places that I think the show would thrive in and find its audience more so than it already has. But, again, with some equipment upgrades.