Recently, I had the chance to speak with Emilie Kneifel and Nadia Davoli, both Montreal-based creatives, who are the co-creators of an upcoming bilingual video interview series titled PLAYD8s w/ u + me-me (or PLAYD8s for short). In the first eight-episode season, Kneifel plays the character Me-Me while interviewing a variety of artists, thinkers, and poets. Together, they color and play while sitting in the cloudy pink real-life bedroom of Kneifel and exploring that week's theme: sound, language, aesthetics, solitude, religion, science, imagination, and family.
The show’s aesthetic and format is largely inspired by Kneifel’s childhood, children's shows, drag, clowns, and Tierra Whack. The idea for PLAYD8s first began in 2017, when Kneifel's new chronic illness began making them more aware of how they were using time and energy; it caused them to "[reminisce] about the unbound nature of childhood play." (Kneifel also expands on this idea in our conversation below.) Kneifel is the writer, director, and host of the series; Davoli is the editor and producer of the video, light, and sound.
Sometimes, PLAYD8s mixes up its own formula, too. One episode is solely in Canadian French, while another is trilingual (French, English, and Creole), and in one episode, Me-Me decides to play alone (while inviting the audience to do the same).
PLAYD8s ultimately aims to create space for play, imagination and unfettered creativity. Per the mission statement: "PLAYD8s is for play within and without structure, a dream where we get to play the way we would like to, where we are safe to re-re-reimagine what is possible. "
1. What children's shows in particular inspired the aesthetic?
Emilie Kneifel: The domestic clown vibe is definitely indebted to Big Comfy Couch. I’m also always thinking about Blues Clues and really any live-action-mixed-with-cartoon that broke the fourth wall. Anything with gentle voices or the sound of scissors cutting paper. Probably my most explicit inspiration is a show my mom watched as a kid that I’ve only ever heard about — and maybe seen a clip of? But I think that was a dream — where the host hops into a giant book. Which is maybe a clue as to where this is all coming from, which is some nebulous desire to distill something about my own kid-noticing. What was it about that song, that repetition, that made me feel so safe? I think, aesthetically, this whole thing is an attempt to reverse engineer kid-noticing by pushing the way of seeing into the visuals themselves.
2. Do you ever rewatch these shows? If so, what's a favorite?
E: Never ever. I’m so precious about my memories; they already feel so precarious. If I can give a completely unrelated recommendation, [my memory of] the movie Shirkers helped solidify a lot of my feelings about the self-contained sanctity of what lives in one’s memory.
3. Childlike play and imagination is an important part of the series. How do you, as writers and creators, rejuvenate that creativity in everyday life?
Nadia Davoli: I like playing with my young nieces and nephews. They do and say the wildest things all the time. 99% of the time when I see them, they are coloring or asking me to draw a shape or write words for them. It's like PLAYD8s but with more screaming and crying, and there's always a Minions movie playing in the background.
E: Yes, I am Nadia’s other nephew. Okay, I’m lame, but I really love to learn. I got mildly into watching football this year because I just liked brain-slurping the rules, and I especially liked getting to ask my big brother questions out loud. I also really like making up special occasions, themes, dressing up, decorating. Me cleaning a room always turns into the home-makeover of a shelf.
4. Who are some of the artists and thinkers will you be bringing on the show?
N: Let's just say one of them rhymes with Breada Blurwig.
E: To ACTUALLY answer the question (Nadia), my best friend Kate and I like to plan parties we’ll never host, and casting PLAYD8s felt like actually getting to host one of those parties. Most of the guests I know as poets; we also have a scientist, imaginary friend, and a witch. They’re all brilliant and kind.
Our first guest, Bára, is a musician, poet, and activist. She founded a literary magazine called Theta Wave, runs poetry workshops, and looks like an emperor every time I see her.
5. In conversations with these people, does the play aspect lead to deeper or more unique conversations?
E: I live with some chronic health issues, so maintaining constant eye contact can be really draining for me. Coloring together — which is how we play on the show — ended up being a fun way to circumvent excess fatigue. Bára is also chronically ill, and she said that the play made her comfortable to sit and really think while she felt around for a crayon. That was so good to hear, because I didn’t want it to be a distraction; I wanted it to make thoughts feel more possible.
6. Your idea started as a reaction after attending a reading that was "all ego, no fun." What aspects of the reading struck you as no fun?
I feel like I need to back up. I went to a reading that made me feel like crap, yes, but the idea itself started when I first got sick and became fascinated by how we spend our time and energy — especially with other people. But let me answer your question before I run away from it.
I really struggle with how ego-driven being-an-artist (as opposed to just making the art) can be; sometimes I worry it’s an irreconcilably hollow way for me to expend my life energy. And that day I think my fears felt visible; I was around people emanating a lot of self-importance. It wasn’t their fault, but it made me feel bad! I was like, oh no, is this what I’m buying a ticket to becoming?
That made me go, okay, I need to actually make this thing; I need to actively seek out what is good about art and making art with people. I want to play, and I want to know how people play so I can learn in the process that (a) it’s okay to take my ideas seriously enough to make them while (b) also not taking everything so seriously.
I called Nadia the next day, and she immediately said yes to doing all the hard parts. That’s when it began-began — though I keep having that feeling and am wondering if it will ever decide to stop.
7. The media landscape today is hellish. A lot of it is just unoriginal regurgitations. Did this also factor into your desire to create PLAYD8s?
N: I just wanted to do the project because Emilie was involved. I knew that no matter what we ended up doing it would be wild and original even if it was just an interview series.
E: That’s so nice. Nadia has put so much trust and meticulous care into this universe.
Hm, this is tricky, because I’m not sure about what you say about unoriginal regurgitations. So many people are making such good art, and, moreover, I feel skeptical of the supposition that anyone is making anything in order to oppose unoriginality. That reason seems dismissive of how much effort it takes to make anything. I don’t want to be like that.
That said, I definitely wanted PLAYD8s to retain its integrity: we color, we sing, we have a Frenglish episode and one entirely in Canadian French. I wanted the show, above anything, to feel like itself. And I do want to share it because I think I have felt loneliness, and I want to have made something that someone else can watch and feel cared for.
I want to have made something that someone else can watch and feel cared for.
8. If you could name a crayon, what would you name it? And describe the color!
N: I wish I could name a crayon "5-cheese mac n' cheese" after this one YouTube video of this person making a mac n' cheese with five cheeses. The color on that mac is glorious and possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Like gold, but edible gold. Gold made of cheese.
E: Mood Ring would change color based on its temperature, and each individual crayon would have different temperature gradients, so some would go pink-green-blue, some orange-red-violet, etc.
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
N: I wanna be the kind of astronaut that Matthew McConaughey is in Interstellar, the kind where you go through a black hole and come out five seconds later, but it's seventy years later. It's very possible I didn't understand Interstellar.
E: A secret or a gardener.
10. What's the song you've been listening to on repeat lately?
N: I'm very late on this but I just discovered Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" so that will be it for a few months.
E: I’ve been trying to get Nadia to watch Lizzo’s Tiny Desk for months because it always makes me cry, but she’s really stubborn when it comes to consuming her own content — so whatever!! My song is "Don't Know How to Keep Loving You" by Julia Jacklin.
11. What’s your favorite video game?
N: This Japanese game called Shenmue was released some twenty years ago, and my life hasn’t been the same since. It’s the story of this Japanese kid called Ryo who seeks revenge on this Chinese mob boss/martial arts master who murdered Ryo’s father right in front of him. The Japanese aesthetic (and eventually Chinese in the sequels) of the game is so cool to me even though the actual graphics are very choppy and all the characters sound like robots because of the English dub. Also, it’s funny to think that my favorite parts of the game are the ones involving ordinary life like going to work as a forklift driver, buying snacks (Ryo can’t eat), and playing classic SNES games at the local arcade. I’ve always been into games imitating real life (see: my love for The Sims) and its monotony (see: my love for RDR2). I wanna go visit the real-life places the game is based on. Is that sad??
E: Animal Crossing, for the monotony Nadia articulated. But probably my real answer is Mario Kart DS with my brothers, which we unearthed over the holidays and played for hours and hours in this beautiful gross pile of morning breath.
12. Who's your dream guest for PLAYD8s?
N: A double bill of Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres.
E: We actually already booked my dream guest. Stay tuned for episode five!