The Joker from Batman. Beyoncé. Northwestern sorority crush parties. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What do these have in common? They were all inspirations for the actors and creator of Kappa Force, a web series premiering in April that stars many Northwestern alumni (and one professor)
As the Greek letter in the title might give away, Kappa Force zeroes in on sororities and fraternities – specifically, a group of five sorority superheroes battling the frattiest of frat boys, The Douche, to rescue their kidnapped friend Fire Fox. Freshman Jen Silver, whose grandma Rose taught her how to fight, wanders onto the scene of State University with all the naivete of a Wildcat Welcome PA baby and becomes Kappa Force’s newest recruit.
“It was really lovely to see and write and produce a world that is diverse, a world that is hilarious, a world that comments on our current political world … but it’s also fun and we can laugh at [it],” said Addison Heimann (SOC ‘12), the creator of Kappa Force.
Inspired by high school and college shows he’d grown up watching on TV (like Buffy), Heimann wrote the pilot about two and a half years ago. He said the first scene he thought of was The Douche capturing Fire Fox, and he just went “full-on ham” from there. The show that started as the “pipe dream” he would talk about at parties wrapped filming this August. The fourth episode will premiere at the Chicago International Television Festival on March 20.
Kappa Force’s Chicago connections run deep. The series was filmed at Loyola University Chicago, and the soundtrack will feature a number of Chicago-area bands, Heimann said. And of course, the Northwestern connections are strong as well. An alum of NSTV and Vertigo Productions, JJ Phillips (SOC ‘12) plays The Douche. Phillips was a classmate of Heimann’s in the Theatre department and his roommate during Kappa filming.
One of Phillips’ most surreal Northwestern moments in Kappa Force was fighting Madeline Weinstein (SOC ‘14), who plays protagonist Jen Silver (“kind of our Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Phillips said.) He had mentored Weinstein’s voice class at Northwestern - but on set, at 3 a.m. waiting for combat to resume, their interaction was entirely different.
“I think she had kicked me in the face, was the scene, and I was sitting there on my knees, and I looked up, and I went, ‘You know, it’s funny, looking back, almost 10 years ago now, who would have known that when you just were a freshman in some tiny little room singing some song from some Sondheim musical... that we would be shooting this kickass action scene together,’” Phillips said.
State University may be purposely generic – in fact, The Douche drinks “Generic Beer” – but it stands out from previous fictional colleges in its diversity. The women of Kappa Force are fighters who laugh at fart jokes, and they’re black, Asian and transgender. Kyra Jones (SOC/Weinberg ‘14) plays Alexa Jones, also known as Wind Dragon. During her time at Northwestern, Jones said she felt ignored by the Student Theatre Coalition (StuCo) casting directors as a Black student. However, she said she appreciated Heimann’s commitment to keeping Kappa Force diverse.
“If the character doesn’t even specify race, I think casting directors in general, not just at Northwestern, assume, ‘This is a white person, this is a straight person, this is a cis person,’” Jones said. “Whereas Addison made sure [he was] specifying: this is a black woman, this is a trans woman.”
Alexa Jones is Kappa Force’s weapons specialist, and Kyra Jones took notes from Beyoncé’s confidence to play who she calls “the hottest member” – hilarious, sex-positive and loyal, Alexa is the friend who would call you out, Jones said, noting that this role was a rare one for her.
“As a black actress, I … feel like the roles that are written for me are not ones where I get to be confident and assert that I am attractive,” she said. “People expect me to be happy that I even got a role.”
The Episode 4 premiere on March 20 and subsequent season premiere in April (on their website) will keep Heimann, Jones and Phillips busy for a few days. If the right person at HBO or The CW takes a look, Heimann envisions a second season with more focus on fraternity and sorority politics.
But even the Kappas are students by day, and these three Northwestern alumni have work to do: Heimann is preparing to film the last of three short films he’s done (working with Kappa Force’s director Hannah Welever). Jones works at Northwestern’s CARE and is writing her own webseries. Phillips just moved to Los Angeles in February and the auditions never stop. Superheroes: they’re just like us.