BY MAX NEOPIKHANOV

Wearing the one piece khaki jump suits with personalized name tags, heavy looking backpacks with bobs and switches that hum and buzz with iridescence, Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston run onto a stage to overwhelming applause from a crowd of fans, the iconic theme song pounding in the foreground which fans just can’t help but sing along with: “who you gonna call?”

The Ghostbusters are back in New York — no not the original actors including Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd — but this time as a theatrical shadowcast starring Brooklyn College student Eliko Aharon, and have most recently performed at the BB King Blues Club in the heart of Times Square, 42Street.

Based on the first Ghostbusters movie from 1984, the Minions of Gozer is a shadowcast performance where actors perform scenes from the film while it plays on a projector screen in the background.  Established at the IFC Center located in the Greenwhich Village in Manhattan, the cast is hoping to perform the production at other venues in the city, and possibly at the Brooklyn College campus with the help of the theater department.

Aharon, 24, a Speech Therapy Major with a Minor in Art, discovered the Minions of Gozer shadowcast production in 2011 while doing a digital photography project at Kingsboro College when he saw several of the show’s cast members handing out promotional fliers.

After approaching them about possibly providing art design for the show, he was instead offered a chance to audition for the part of one of the four Ghostbusters, Ray Santz (Dan Aykroyd), which he immediately landed despite it being his first real acting gig.

“I was always interested in the movies growing up,” said Aharon. “There were the toys, the cartoons playing; Ghostbusters is a timeless classic.”

Aharon is currently one of the 14 cast members in the production which, according to show producer Angela Williams, works best with about 17.

Williams, 36, once a policy analyst for the city and now the director of Minions of Gozer, has helmed the production for nine shows since it opened last November at the IFC center.  A huge fan of Ghostbusters herself, Williams feels that the Ghostbusters films are still very relevant today despite being more than 25 years old, and exhibit some of the best qualities of New York City — where the films were shot and take place — and its inhabitants.

“I travelled to New York several years ago and I stumbled upon the firehouse [from the movie] and I wanted to recreate that moment of my favorite thing to life,” Williams explained. “I like the New York that’s portrayed in the movie, with curmudgeonly old people with hearts of gold.”

In addition to her directing duties, Williams helps to create and maintain some of the props and performs a few small roles during the production including operating slimmer, the tenacious and iconic green ghost who is brought to life through a puppet that’s been custom made for Minions of Gozer.

Much of the production’s budget goes into repairs and purchasing new props for each show, Williams explained.  “We tend to break a lot of things,” she said, laughing.  “I’m terrible at making things,” she said backstage while tearing up a white sheet into an impromptu ghost prop.

The show is, by theater production standards, decidedly low budget, mostly due to the largely amateur cast and home-made props. But as an entirely internally funded project is still an expensive endeavor for those new to show business.

The BB King performance is the first for which the actors were paid; each performer earned $20, said Aharon.  But money isn’t very important to the cast to whom the experience and fan support are enough reasons to keep the show running.

“It’s a low budget for a show but it’s a big budget for two people,” said producer Ryan Espin.” We are not doing it for the money, but because we love Ghostbusters.”

Espin,a 25-year-old web designer, is the show’s “co-producer, public relations, designer and Peter Venkman.” He and Williams provided all of the production’s initial funding for costumes, props, advertisement and other logistics out of pocket.

Some of the props are cheap, but others such as the essential energy beam proton packs that each of the Ghostbusters wear, cost about $200 each plus maintenance costs, said Espin.

Aharon spiritedly recalled an incident when his proton pack “completely fell off during one scene.”  A potentially harrowing and show-halting disaster in any normal production, the mishap apparently didn’t perturb the audience in the least bit, he said, and they instead laughed as Aharon continued delivering his lines without missing a beat.

According to cast members, this is all common fare in a shadowcasts, where performers don’t intend to take themselves too seriously.  Racy, off-beat humor and campy acting are the norm and are wholly embraced by the fans.

Indeed, at one point during the BB King show a cast member seemingly downed a good portion of a Jack Daniels Whiskey Bottle.  During another side bar, a cast member kissed another who was dressed in drag complete with a large 70s era moustache. Neither of the improvised scenes appeared in the original film.

Actors performing a film in front of an audience is not a relatively new concept.  The first shadowcast was born in 1975 with the Rocky Horror Picture Show film at the Weaverly Theater — now IFC Center — in Greenwich Village, said Williams.  In a time of flagrant discrimination and prejudice of gays, a few actors and theater enthusiasts decided to run a show where patrons could watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show and participate with the actors by shadowing the film on stage.

“It was a fun and safe place to hang out,” said Williams.

The performance has garnered a cult following over the years and continues to run at several theaters across the country — a cult following that Minions of Gozer cast hopes to someday meet and perhaps even eclipse.

Perhaps the most important difference between a shadowcast and a normal theater production is the extensive interaction between the players on stage and the audience members.  The production constantly breaks the fourth wall with self referential humor and impromptu skits that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Saturday Night Live – incidentally two of the Ghostbusters featured prominently in the films, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd,  began their storied careers as cast members on SNL.

At the BB King show, several audience members were pulled on stage to hold up signs or dance with the cast who would often walk off the stage and start conversing and interacting with the seated audience.  What seems out of place in a normal theatrical production is one of the key tenets of Minions of Gozer.

“The first two rows are ‘slime square’, where there is a definite chance of you being pulled up on stage or being hit with silly string,”  said Aharon.

Before the show starts, a member of the cast walks between the tables and doles out $2 brown paper bags packed with an index card, a crunch bar, several pieces of toast, and other references to the film, for the audience to throw on stage when given the cue.

Confections fly in every direction and colorful lights flash around the room.

The actor playing Rick Moranis’ memorable and extremely socially awkward character, Louis Tully, runs up to a nearby audience member and asks, “I am the key master, are you the gate keeper?”   A big grin erupts on her face, and her response is drowned out by the throng of cheering fans and the loud speakers by the stage.

Aharon has spoken with members of the theater department at Brooklyn College and said that any potential performance at the school will depend on the overall cost of the production, which will likely come out of the producers’ pockets. One possible idea is to screen the film and perform everything outdoors with a projector, similar to what the cast did at an outdoor show on the beach at Coney Island last summer.

“I think it would be a great experience for BC students to have,” said Aharon. “It’s not just people sitting or watching a movie, it’s almost as if you’re in the film right there with you.”

Moreover, bigger venues and interstate touring are some of the goals for the show, said Aharon.  He hinted at the “possibility” of a Ghostbusters II shadow cast and even suggested that he’d love to do a Jurassic Park Shadowcast in the future – complete, of course, with many of the Minions of Gozer cast members he’s gotten to know.

“We’ve worked together for so long that they’re almost like my family members,” explained Aharon, emphatically, and with a warm smile on his face.

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