Depending on your vantage point, “Old School Game Show” is a number of things. On the surface, it is as the title suggests — a trivia show with audience participation and a retro vibe, complete with skinny microphones, over-the-top enthusiasm and funky period clothes from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s also a variety show, backed by the Swinging OSGS Band, a troupe of sketch comedians, a contingent of burlesque artists called the Cubic Zirconia Dancers and house announcer Will Smalley.
If you’re a fan of independent music and comedy, it’s also a showcase for acts like Jess Collins of the rock band Petty Morals and John Baglio, who will both do spots on “Old School Game Show’s Wrestling Smacktacular” at Oberon Friday night. Oh yeah, and depending on the theme, it could be a wrestling show. Or a tribute to ‘80s movies. Or a hoedown.
What makes an episode of “OSGS” can depend on the venue and the theme. “It can be show-specific,” says executive producer and performer Ginny Nightshade. “Our May 19 show that we’re doing at Oberon is a wrestling-themed show, so that show’s going to have gym mats on the floor and wrestling choreography and all kinds of things that wouldn’t always be in your standard ‘Old School Game Show.’”
In addition to the game show, which will pit audience members against each other in buzzer-beating trivia games, members of the cast will be taking on the Boston League of Women Wrestlers, or BLOWW for short. “OSGS” host, creator and producer Michael D’Angelo saw the group at a Valentine’s Day-themed show and saw the similarities in format to his production. “They usually play with a rock band, they mic comedy with the wrestling,” he says. “We’re in that same world.”
“They’re really fearless performers,” adds Nightshade, “so it fits really well with our production because we can do some pretty wild stuff with them and it’s like a big party.”
It’s a big operation. In addition to D’Angelo, Nightshade, the band, the dancers, the sketch cast and the announcer, there are also separate writing teams handling the sketch comedy and trivia. “It is a really collaborative environment,” says Smalley, who is also a stand-up comedian. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve been a part of in my professional comedy career.”
“OSGS” has seen a growth spurt in the past couple of years, going from regular shows at The Rockwell (formerly the Davis Square Theatre), to a residency at Oberon, and one-offs at different venues, including a successful show at the Wilbur Theatre in February. Nightshade and D’Angelo say they are used to audiences of about 160 people. At the Wilbur, they estimate the crowd was around 700. Reaching that audience was an important step forward. They’re hoping to be asked back.
“There was a question for us: Will this work?” says D’Angelo. “To a large number of people who have never seen this show and know nothing about us, is it going to be too weird? What’s going to play in this bigger space? We thought it worked very well. The Wilbur, it’s big, but it still feels intimate.”
They knew they had a cult audience, but Nightshade notes the Wilbur show was a sign that “OSGS” has legs and might someday be a permanent job. “Not only do we have an audience that follows us to various venues,” she says, “but we have marketability, which, as artists, is exciting because it means it’s something we can do to sustain ourselves. It was unreal.”
This all grew from humble beginnings in 2012 when D’Angelo was asked to put together a game theme for a friend’s party. As a lifelong lover of games, he ran with the theme. “I just kind of went nuts,” he says. “I wore a fake mustache and I gave everyone nametags.”
Then he kept doing it. He added musicians and started doing it for the general public in May of 2013 at Bella Luna & The Milky Way in Jamaica Plain. D’Angelo created a Kickstarter so he could raise money to build a buzzer podium and create a wardrobe of vintage costumes. It soon outgrew the venue, and D’Angelo moved it to the Davis Square Theatre (which is now The Rockwell).
About four shows into that, he met Nightshade — a writer, actor and burlesque dancer. It was a strange introduction. “The first show that I went to was almost four hours long,” she says, “and Michael collapsed onstage and went to the emergency room [for] dehydration.”
D’Angelo cast her in a nonspeaking role, neither he nor Nightshade could have predicted how their partnership would grow. Although her character name in the first show proved to be prescient. “Ginny saw the third or fourth show at The Rockwell,” says D’Angelo of the night he collapsed onstage. “She was in the audience. I cast her in a non-speaking role for the next episode. She was the Dream Girl character. And after that, that’s what I called her. That’s my nickname for her now.”
The nickname would fit better than either of them realized at the time. To D’Angelo and Nightshade, “OSGS” is the place where they found true love. After working together as producers and cast members, their partnership deepened. “We worked creatively and sort of became best friends,” says Nightshade. “We’ve only been dating, it was a year in February. Before that, we were just creatively collaborators, and talked constantly, obsessively about the show.
“That creative collaboration, where someone is challenging you — it’s a fight, it’s a negotiation. They’re going to bring their energy [to] your energy, and you’ll get something better. They’re going to edit the stuff that you don’t need and you’re going to challenge their ideas. So it’s kind of that push and pull. Really good stuff comes from that.”
To the cast and crew, “Old School Game Show” is more than just a show. “Mike is super receptive to everyone and everything and is willing to try anything,” says Smalley. “And Ginny is so supportive in getting all those things off the ground. It is very much a family.”
The creative couple married in April surrounded by friends, family and “OSGS” cast members. And it’s a telling slip-up when D’Angelo describes the ceremony. “It was a private show,” he says, before catching himself. “I mean a private wedding.”
Smalley, who was ordained in Universal Life Church, officiated the wedding at Oberon dressed as Elvis. The cast and crew performed as if it were an extension of “OSGS.” “Everyone approached it the same way,” says Smalley. “Obviously Mike and Ginny had a little more going on there. There was a show element to it, but ultimately the goal was to have a real moment as well.”
Nightshade says she and D’Angelo were touched by the turnout. It was an affirmation of what they’ve been trying to accomplish onstage. “I think the amazing thing that we’ve seen over the past few weeks of all these shows celebrating our love is that we’ve got a really wonderful artist community that we’re part of,” she says. “We support people as much as we can, and people really came out to support us. And that was incredibly heartening, to see all the love that is around our love.”