IMAGINE AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE awhizz with fake-looking spaceships, the kind of place where Power Rangers blast past the Mystery Science Theater 3000 mothership on little skateboard rockets. That's where The Digits—billed as "the world's first interactive kids' show"—zooms in to teach kids math and science, with a spaceship, a robot, an alien, and a Ramona Flowers-style character named Pavi in tow. The show, created by the Portland-based outfit FUNDA, has YouTube videos, mobile apps, a rock album (Homework Hotline), and soon, a TV series on PBS. They're currently crowd-funding a live performance of their pilot episode, which will play in Portland this summer. We asked The Digits' producer and director Scotty Iseri some questions.
MERCURY: How did you get here?
SCOTTY ISERI: I had a comedy show in Chicago, and worked in public media and web series after that. As far as kids' stuff... well, I have over a dozen nieces and nephews. I think kids are the greatest audience in the world; they'll accept the story, but they're also the first ones to call BS if something doesn't sit right. They're awesomely unforgiving, and they reward your attention to detail unlike any other audience.
How do kids interact with The Digits currently, and how will they do it in the upcoming PBS series' format?
On our mobile app, the games kids play actually change the outcome of the story. Our live Skype chats are highly interactive of course, and we answer kids' questions on the YouTube channel. A classroom in Idaho sent us a video question that we incorporated into an episode.
For the TV show, it's certainly a challenge. We're working on a mobile app that will connect to the TV show so kids can play along with the show, and are looking into ways that audience participation can affect what happens on screen. We've got some pretty cool ideas in the works.
What well-known rock-star types have been involved with The Digits?
Oh man, the Thermals were amazing. That same week we also had Cody Chesnutt (one of my favorite artists) and the Doubleclicks. We've also had Jonathan Coulton, Cara Santa Maria, and we even got Rodney Anonymous from the Dead Milkmen on our album. I think these incredibly generous folks are all really interested in the next generation of media, and know that math and science are really important. One thing I hear a lot from people is something like, "If I'd had The Digits when I was a kid, maybe I wouldn't be so bad at math."
What should backers expect from the live show?
It's going to be incredibly interactive... really, why do it live if you don't bring the audience in on the action? We're using this as a way to test out the pilot and find out what's working. Of course, we're bringing along our usual gang of puppets, robots, and ne'er-do-wells, but if we make our stretch goals for the Indiegogo campaign, we're also going to bring in a live band and build a Doombot Discombobulator, a spectacular Rube Goldberg contraption that is part of our new science curriculum.