PREVIEW: Princess Jafar’s The Princess is Right!
Win Cash, a Bus Pass, and a Washer and Dryer with Princess Jafar
“The Princess is Right” at the New Hazlett Theater
Photos by Renee Rosensteel
Princess Jafar is back with The Princess is Right! An Interactive Game Show, a game show where possibly everyone is a winner. A few things to know before you click buy on that ticket button: Princess Jafar is immortal. There will be a ton of guests. And you can win cash.
The performance is part of the New Hazlett Theater’s CSA series. There are three performances on Thursday, Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 18 at 8pm. For tickets and more info, click here.
We had a fantastic time chatting with Princess Jafar, so let’s jump into it.
David Bernabo: The Princess Is Right. What is it about?
Princess Jafar: I like to say, You’re the next contestant on The Princess Is Right. Come down, get in the hot seat, win some cool cash and some hot prizes. The Princess Is Right is Pittsburgh’s chance to be part of those big Hollywood game shows, to be in the audience, to win prizes, to jump out of your seat, to show the world that you know how much cold cream costs. I wanted to bring Pittsburgh’s audiences alive. You might have seen it at your own shows, Dave, where people are a little too cool for school in Pittsburgh crowds, and I wanted to hack that and think of a way where I can actually get the audience members jumping out of their seats and super excited for the show. Not only that, but a way to get them to clamor for tickets. In Pittsburgh, I feel a lot of people get their tickets day of, night before. I want everyone to buy their tickets right away so that they can have a chance to fly around the world, win money, or win a washer and dryer set.
Right now, I think it’s kind of an awkward time to be asking my audiences for their funds, for their ticket prices, for their merch money. The way my community is shown, its very working class, genderqueer, people of color. So I want to give back. I want to give away cash and prizes, but also I want to give away a bus pass for the year. I want to give away a lead filtering drinking system to get the lead out of the water. Just kind of use this show as a way to give back and to do some things that the government won’t do. Provide public transportation, get lead out of water, give people cash during a pandemic. Because I want to be the the ruler of the world, so I have to start here in Pittsburgh and give my citizens what they need, which in this case is drinkable water and money to survive.
DB: What’s appealing about the game show format? I feel like a lot of your performances have this TV aspect.
PJ: Yeah, you’re right. I like to base my shows off of TV shows. I like to base them off of shows that would have existed in the 80s and 90s. A sitcom pilot was our first show. Then we did a live talk show that was based on The Joan Rivers Show and Late Night and all that. Then we did an afternoon talk show with hot button issues at Club Café.
I’m really inspired by the way some talk show hosts combine interviews, game show elements, and a musical guest. It is like modern day variety thing.
Really the the game show came together because I watch a lot of game shows. I love game shows. I’m really happy for Amazon Prime; they have all the old ones on there. Tattletales, Super Password, I’ve Got A Secret. I’m really drawn to that 80s and 90s era because that’s when I grew up, and I was obsessed with TV as a kid, but I never saw myself in those leading roles. I never saw people that looked like my friends in those roles. So with the Princess Jafar project, it’s really me putting myself into those roles I wanted as a kid that really don’t exist anymore.
It’s almost an attempt to rewrite history. I want in a few years for people to remember Princess Jafar as a 90s character. I want to create some confusion like Oh, were they actually around with Elvira and Pee Wee Herman and Hulk Hogan and all those big names? Yes. Yes, she was. Princess Jafar has been around for 500 years. She’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.
DB: Is there an element of fantasy within the game show format?
PJ: Yes, definitely, game shows in general are fantastic. There’s a reason they’re popular. People see a little chance to escape. Like when that person on TV wins a trip, I win a trip with my very simple knowledge of how much Ovaltine costs or knowing the phrase “luck be a lady” on Wheel of Fortune. You won. Good job.
In the Princess Jafar world, there’s definitely fantastical elements. We get weird with it. We get kind of surreal or uncanny at times, just to play with it, because this is artists expressing themselves on stage. It’s not the same thing as a Hollywood team of executives making a game show. This is an art show. This is an art piece. And the New Hazlett Theater encourages that.
When I was presenting this idea to the New Hazlett Theater, I didn’t want them to think it was just a straight up game show, because that could happen anywhere. I wanted them to see that it was a lot of Pittsburgh artists working together, putting their ideas together, creating this world for ourselves to act in and to be in but also for the audience to escape into.
DB: Can you talk about some of your collaborators?
PJ: Definitely. In the past, I’ve worked with some really great artists like the moon baby, Gia Fagnelli, Livefromthecity. I really like big names, people with big energies. A lot of artists are actually very shy. They’re talented introverts, and I like working with those talented extroverts who can really command the stage and have a catchy name and have their own world behind them.
So for this show, you might see some of those same faces coming back. We’re going to be visited by Brittney Chantele and Livefromthecity. And Naheen from True T and from SUPA’ N x C, which is new group in Pittsburgh. I’m working with kidmental for the first time. kidmental is a DJ who is like a Twitch streamer, really, and they create individual theme songs for people. So I was following them online, seeing all these different theme songs and jingles they were making daily, weekly, all the time for people. I was so attracted to that work ethic and that just like constant output of exciting ideas. He’s going to be my DJ but also my co-host.
Some other collaborators I’ll be working with are some drag queens from Pittsburgh. We have Agnes Senga, Maxi Pad, Lydia B. Kollins, and Andi Whorehol, and Baby T. These drag queens are actually going to be our pricing models. So they’ll be coming in with the products, with the entertainment, with the electronics, and they’ll be displaying those for us.
DB: Will there be someone building this world?
PJ: Tucker Topel is building a really beautiful game show set. During the first few talks, we were thinking of the 70s, 80s, 90s sets, which are big brown squares, orange and yellow, carpeted and all that. But as we were talking recently, it’s moved on to more of a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire set, where it’s dark, pared down, a lot of lights and screens and bright colors. It’s going to be moving into more of like a 2000s vibe with the staging.
Then for the lighting director, we have Madeleine Steineck. The lights on the game show are really important. We need the spotlights and those flashing bulbs. I’m excited to work with Madeleine for that.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the game show Press Your Luck with the whammies. I’ve started working with Goofytoof. Goofytoof is a performance artist and a graphics artist in Pittsburgh, and they’re going to be making our animated sequences for when you win or when you lose. If we have a trip, a cruise ship will come on the screen.
DB: What kind of skill level will contestants need?
PJ: I don’t think any skill level will be needed to play our game. The questions are going to be easy. I want everyone to win actually, because this is not yet a booked series where we have this happening every night. Once that happens, people can lose. But on the first episode, I might rig things a little bit and we might have more winners than losers. I want everyone to go away with the prizes. We didn’t buy the prizes for them not be taken home. Pretty much everyone will be a winner. Even if you’re a loser, we might just make you a winner anyways.
DB: Can you spotlight a few of these prizes?
PJ: One of the biggest prizes I’m excited to give away is a washer and dryer set from LG. Super nice one. Living in Pittsburgh, laundry is horrible. Either you have to pay quarters in your own building or the machines don’t work or it smells like mildew. It’s one of the worst experiences doing laundry. I want to give that prize to someone for the practicality that everyone in Pittsburgh needs a washer and dryer but also, washer and dryer sets are classic pieces that you can win on TV, and I really want to give that away.
I’ve been friends with Just Jingles — or a lot of us know Jingles as Heather — for eight, nine years. Jingles is an internationally renowned burlesque dancer, who does really funny dances — super sexy but makes it silly. One of her dances is she’s literally dressed like a washing machine. She’s like a super sexy washing machine. And I’ve been telling her for years that I want to have her on stage — she does a dance and we’re going to give away a washer and dryer set. This has been a silly little drinking idea we’ve had for years, like, oh, let’s give away a washer and dryer set. So, the washer and dryer set fulfills a trope, it meets the audience’s needs, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time with one of my longtime friends in Pittsburgh. It’s gonna be so much fun.
DB: Can you talk about your use of pop culture? I’m thinking about Disney and your interest in that.
PJ: I grew up very much the Cable Guy life where it’s just me and the TV. So when I watch home videos, it’s me watching Home Improvement. When I’m watching Christmas movies, it’s like seeing my family members at Christmas again. The TV wasn’t just our babysitter; it was our best friend. As a kid, I thought it was very important to know everything about TV. So I was obsessed with learning the 60s shows that were on and the 70s shows and the 80s shows. I’ve always felt like I’ve been playing catch up. I don’t know how people can watch shows that come out on TV this year, because I’m still in 1988. There’s still so many movies I haven’t seen from the 90s. Like, what do you mean, you’re watching Euphoria? I’m just finishing Melrose Place.
I just think we should all do media chronologically. Sorry! I just got through the 60s, we can move on now.
But pop culture means a lot to me. As I got older, and I realized I’m a Disney adult — uh oh, trigger warning, Disney adult. How do you tie this John Waters world I’m living in, in this Pittsburgh queer art scene with a trip to Disney World the next month. How do I pair that? How do I make sense of that?
So when Princess Jafar came together, it was such a blessing, because everything made sense finally. We’re gonna go in knowing you’re crass, knowing that this is for adults, even though you’re using these family entertainment themes. Once Princess Jafar was born, just all this pressure came off of me to almost explain myself. I’m also a white passing Arab. So oftentimes, I would be doing an Arab number, I’d be doing a Lebanese number, and the audience would think I was mocking Arabs. They would think I was just another white kid. So when I go in saying, Princess Jafar, it explains my gender, kind of, it explains a little bit of my nationality, and I think it also tells you that I’m going to be playing with pop culture and with these themes in a fun way, just from that one name. So I’m very happy for that.
But I like to use pop culture, because it’s a language that we all speak or that a lot of us speak. Really the New Hazlett will bring in an older crowd. My crowd is 30 year olds. The younger kids come in, the 19 and 20 year olds. So I have to make jokes that land with the 50 year old audience, the 30 year old audience, and the 20 year old audience. I will make a Carol Burnett joke, and then the next minute, I will make a joke about a gay dating app that hasn’t existed in 10 years for those 40 year olds. Yeah, I remember dudesnudes, and then I will make a Euphoria joke, even though I haven’t seen it. So I just like to cover my bases and watch it all and consume it all. And I, I am immortal. So I have all of time to watch all the media. So it’s my plan to do that.