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The artist masterfully blends EDM, pop and hyperpop on a record that feels like a night out with her.
Review: “BRAT” by Charli XCX
Published June 12, 2024

Scream It Off Screen: Get gonged or get rich

Scream It Off Screen, a bizarre and exhilarating short-film competition based in Minneapolis, returned to in-person shows late last year and held its 40th event at the Parkway Theater in early March. Hilarity and chaos ensued.
Terry Sommer (left) and mascot SCREAMy (right) own the stage at the 40th Scream it off Screen short film competition in Minneapolis’ Parkway Theater on March 4, 2022. Photo courtesy of Stephen Kubiak

A complete overthrow of theater etiquette occurs on First Fridays at Minneapolis’ Parkway Theater. If you’ve ever felt the animal urge to express your distaste for a terrible movie by screaming at the top of your lungs, Terry Sommer and Natalie Koness welcome you, mouths agape, to Scream It Off Screen. The only requirement is to not take yourself too seriously.

Scream It Off Screen (SIOS) is an unconventional short film competition created by Sommer and Koness that started with a projector in their backyard and has since formed a passionate local community at the Parkway, along with a loyal online fanbase.

“It’s not just an event where people come and watch a movie together,” Koness, who manages social media and runs the show behind the scenes, said. “People are coming together and making a decision with other people by literally using their voices.”

As throngs of quirky folks stream into the Parkway, jovial crowds converse and reconnect with friends they see here every month. The show’s mascot, Screamy, jaunts around the theater sporting a skin-tight, hot red morph suit and a papier-mâché mouth as a head, eyes slightly visible between its vivid lips. This is the essence of the show: a display of local artists and a wonderful kind of weirdness.

The rules are simple: 15 original short films, submitted by local filmmakers and selected at random for the audience’s viewing pleasure, are played and noisily critiqued by an often relentless crowd.

After a certain point in the viewing, a red light illuminates the all-powerful, looming gong, signaling that it’s time for the audience to vote. They can choose to shout “gong,” if they think the film is unworthy of the $101.01 cash prize, or combat the gong-ers by yelling “let it play.” If the audience seems divided, those who wish to let it play will be asked to stand up to show their support, and the film will continue if they outnumber the naysayers.

“I think it’s also important for the artists, because they’re going to get some kind of honest feedback on what they made,” Sommer, who emcees the show and handles the gong, said.

Sommer, lovingly called by his first name by many in the audience as he rode a light-up scooter onto the stage that Friday, also wearing a morph suit — this one grape purple, adorned with balloons of the same color — was poised to entertain.

At the end of the night, the films are narrowed down to the audience’s favorites, and a winner is selected via an applause-o-meter. Gonged films are encouraged to resubmit after hearing the audiences’ criticism, with the overall goal to improve their ability and get their work out there.

“It’s taking the interaction with one another to the next step, which I think people are probably really hungry for,” Koness said, adding that many are overjoyed to return to in-person events after the pandemic halted theater-going.

The show moved online in 2020 to accommodate for the pandemic, creating a whole new audience that resulted in a worldwide community of Screamy lovers. Even after SIOS returned to the Parkway in late 2021, the online show persisted.

For those who grew up with internet culture, the competition is a way to find that specific brand of weird that marked their childhoods. “It’s not stuff you find in the algorithm,” Mary Danielson, last month’s winner and frequent SIOS front-row sitter, said.

Stephen Kubiak, Danielson’s partner, and the winner of both this month’s show and January’s, agreed. The two discovered the online show in 2021, went to the first in-person show post-pandemic and have considered the Parkway show their date night ever since.

“It lets everyone choose to express themselves wherever they want. There’s no panel deciding, oh, this is worthy of this competition. People can just express themselves,” Kubiak said.

The online show’s lottery system and the lack of pre-screening results in wondrous chaos, allowing anyone to join in and share their creations no matter their experience levels (or the subject matter). “There’s a lot of diversity here,” Danielson continued, “There’s some voices out there that you might not see or hear otherwise.”

“It’s just like nothing else,” Sommer said, “I think that’s what a lot of people enjoy about it. No one knows what’s going to happen.”

Often, shows will contain a mix of highly produced, award-winning shorts and total amateur works. Koness especially enjoys watching the experienced filmmakers standing up for the little guy, showing their support for those just starting out.

This month’s top three films showed this range: “The Intervention” by Bryan McDonald and Ryan Becken, a surreal examination of self and what it takes to forgive past mistakes; “Sho U What I Got” by Stephen Kubiak, a demonstration of his prowess in the bedroom; and Cory Rosen’s parody of early vlogs, “LOST IN THE WOODS (BAPTISM?) HIKING GONE WRONG!”

Kubiak’s crowd favorite took home the prize. He was awarded with a comically large check, one clearly reused at each show, and an improvised victory ballad by Sommer himself.
“I’m glad on what seemed to be such an aggressive night, my lovemaking made the cut,” Kubiak said after his victory was announced.

This month’s show was rife with rule-breakers, hecklers and harsh critics, but it was nothing Sommer couldn’t handle as he expertly shut down those challenging the system or being a little ruder than necessary.

“You’ll never know what the audience wants, and the audience doesn’t really know what they want either until they’ve had enough,” Kubiak said.

SIOS appears live on YouTube every second Friday of the month, and its creators have big hopes for the future. Sommer expressed hopes of one day taking SIOS on tour and creating a studio where they can fully fund small filmmakers.

“The online community, they’re saying, ‘Please, don’t stop doing this, now that you’re back at the theater. We need this,’” Koness said. “So I think we’re gonna keep doing it and hopefully it’ll get bigger and bigger.”

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