Michelle Joni is kind of a pro when it comes to fun and games. The party and event planner is captain of the New York City Skipping Club, a counselor at Soul Camp (an “adult sleepaway camp for the soul”) and a teacher at her very own concoction, Preschool Mastermind, a preschool for… you guessed it. But her next feat will be transforming a Bushwick venue into everyone’s favorite summer camp.
Hold up though, what’s all this? Are we talking activities for furries or adults? Is this some PMA pursuit better suited to Silicone Valley? Well, the truth is we’re living in an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt world, where saccharine grins don’t necessarily indicate naiveté. So ignore the cries of despair emanating from every cynical bone in your body because, really, this “immersive, interactive theater, creative community experience” dedicated to invoking the spirit of the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer will probably be pretty fun.
Aside from the variety of whimsical events Joni plans in Brooklyn, the pink-maned organizer is also a part of the day rave set at Morning Gloryville, those sober, early morning parties everyone’s been busting their guts over. It’s probably not surprising that Joni paused from our conversation to wrangle a trampoline into her car.
But Joni’s connection to Wet Hot American Summer runs deeper than a shared obsession with camp. She spent 11 summers as a camper then a counselor at Camp Towanda in the Poconos, the real life Camp Firewood. When the WHAS crew showed up to film at camp, 15-year-old Joni auditioned and was cast in a small role as Tall Debbie, one part of a three-girl talent show act. Years later, Joni is still capable of bursting into a perfect rendition of the song, “Love will pervade us till death separates us. We’re friends, friends, friends.”
While she didn’t pursue acting any further, Joni looks back fondly on her time at Camp Towanda. “I feel like I learned everything I know through summer camp, about friends, boys, sex, leadership,” she recalled. “It really gives you this world to function in where you have to get along with people and figure it out. You either do or you don’t. It was definitely a huge part of my life.”
But not surprisingly the filming of WHAS really stands out. “It’s this magic vortex of hilarity and all these actors who were unknown or not well known just became super stars,” she said.
Though Camp Firewood is all “High Times, Hard Bodies, Soft Rock,” it’s hard to imagine that the adults running Camp Towanda advertised the same ethos.”It was hilarious because the camp directors didn’t know what kind of movie it was going to be and they’re like promoting it and they’re talking about it,” Joni laughed. “Then all of a sudden the movie comes out and it was like mum’s the word. Nobody mentioned it again. It was never in the promotional materials for Camp Towanda until later on when it became more of a thing.”
On August 4th Joni will be throwing Wet Hot Brooklyn Summer, a summer camp-themed banger in Bushwick to celebrate the rebirth of the raunchy comedy (you might feel old to hear it was made in the early aughts) as a Netflix series starring Bradley Cooper, Michael Cera, Jon Hamm, and Elizabeth Banks.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is a prequel to the original, which places it in a pretty weird time vortex. The 2001 film was set in 1981, so is this 2001’s 1981 or 2015’s 1981? According to the critics, the new series is the latter. Vulture writes: “It’s a prequel in which actors now in their 40s portray teenagers. And in the oddest move of all, it’s actually good.”
So in that sense, you totally don’t have to be a kid to party at camp, and all those actors squeezed into short shorts and baseball tees probably have a few on you anyway. To get you into the spirit, X Marks the Lot— a burner stronghold known for chartering decked-out buses to festivals — will be transformed into Camp Firewood.
Of course there’s going to be a screening of both the original film and some eppies from the new series. And you can guzzle all the free beer you want (from both Braven Brewing and Finch’s, a Chicago-based beer company that legit crafts a “Wet Hot American Wheat Ale”) plus pig out on BBQ. But also expect to see tons of interactive opportunities including “Arts n Farts n Crafts” and “science projects.”
If you’re literally looking to get your hands dirty, the organizers are setting up a mud pit, one of many “cathartic stations,” which the Facebook event page confirms is solely for the purpose of “smearing mud on your ass with zero shame.”
“You’ll be able to share your pleasure, whatever it is,” Joni explained. “Whether it’s fondling sweaters or smearing mud on your ass, you’ll be able to try it out.”
Sweaters? Oh right, costumes are absolutely mandatory. But one of the bigger productions at this thing is going to be the talent show. Joni is encouraging people to audition via Instagram. Hopefuls must submit their try out video by uploading it and tagging @michellejoni and @amygracemusicbefore by Sunday August 2nd.
Joni is requesting that contestants indeed possess some “heavy duty talent.” However “talent” can be loosely interpreted as having something to do with either a WHAS character or one of the acts featured in the talent show scene. Alternatively, contestants’ bits “can be not from the movie at all, but from your Wet Hot Brooklyn life.”