News Blog for Seattle's University District Neighborhood


Wing-it Productions’ play brings a new level of interactivity – through Kinect

May 7th, 2012 by master

UW News Lab

Lars Foster-Jorgensen and Trent Walkiewicz act in Wing-It Production’s new unscripted play “Gauntlet.” Photo credit Wing-It Productions.

What if you could be the “player” within a play?

Improv theater group Wing-It Productions did just that at their opening night for their new unscripted play, “Gauntlet” on Thursday, May 3.

In addition to the typical audience interaction needed in improv, a new level of virtual interaction was used for the actors. Microsoft engineers and Carnegie-Mellon graduate students collaborated with Wing-It to create an exclusive Kinect video game for the play.

In addition to the innovation’s “wow-factor,” the use of a video game in the play is vital to the story.

“Gauntlet” is about two friends who are winners at playing video games but are losers in life. Depending on audience suggestions, the plot revolves around a major life event. The video-game world almost parallels the real world, making the “audience member become lost in the show, much in the same way that video games engulf the player,” said director Andrew McMasters.

Each performance is a unique experience, just like starting a new file on a video game. The actors rotate the basic parts. “Female gamers will not be excluded,” said actors Elizabeth Westerman and Amalia Larson, who play the role of the video gamers.

Don Gillett came up with the show’s concept about six to seven years ago during the show “CUT,” which involved a green screen that the actors would interact with. Motion-capture technology has progressed enough since then, Gillett decided to create a show using Microsoft’s Kinect technology. “We were building the game while they were rehearsing it. It took about two months to make, but there was difficulty with that. Like we would have to change parts to go with what they were rehearsing,” said Gordon Jeffery, a Carnegie-Mellon graduate student.

Kinect — a motion-sensing input device by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 console and Windows PCs — is used by the actors playing the roles of the video game avatars. While these actors stand in front of the device and act out their characteristics, the video gamers use the Xbox controllers to manipulate the camera and gameplay. The need for coordination between actors is especially high with using this technology. For example, in Thursday night’s show, the video game avatars were named “Tentaculus the Octopusinator” and “Volatile Primate the Triathlete.” Tentaculus would wiggle his arms like tentacles and Volatile Primate was hunched over. These physical characteristics were reflected on the gameplay on the large screen. The accuracy of motion-capture immensely increased the humor. The video gamer who was Volatile Primate would move the character around and interact with the setting – such as killing villains or jousting. Even when the actors did not know what they were doing with the game controls, it helped with the comedy of the show and their quick wit saved any technical difficulties experienced. This made the experience uplifting and fun.

It is not only the use of technology that makes the unscripted play a success, but also the witty dialogue improvised by the actors. The ensemble made the show feel like it was actually scripted with smart conversations and character development, leading to new story directions without a bump.

You can find out more information about “Gauntlet” and order tickets at

It plays Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. from May 3 until May 19.

Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and military.

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Vegan restaurant on The Ave adds dinner to the menu

April 12th, 2012 by master

The Wayward Vegan Cafe, which moved to the 5200 block of University Way NE from NE 55th Street more than a year ago, is now stepping up its game by expanding its hours to include dinner.

The dinner options developed by co-owners Colin and Tami Blanchette feature meat- and dairy-free takes on old favorites such as quesadillas, filet mignon, fried chicken, ribs, and nachos.

Dinner will be served from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily in addition to breakfast and lunch.

The restaurant has been in the U District for more than seven years.

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New restaurant on the Ave offers authentic udon noodles

February 23rd, 2012 by master

By Julia Li

Hungry for good eats on the Ave? These days, the Ave is offering something different: authentic style Japanese noodles at a new restaurant just north of 45th Street NE called U:Don. Even the name of the restaurant is eye-catching, with its incorporation of a smiley face emoticon (the name is pronounced “You-Don” by the way). U:Don proudly serves thick textured noodles cooked in a broth or sauce of your choice, providing the perfect warm meal for Seattle’s wet winter season.

U:Don Fresh Japanese Noodle Station offers a unique experience, not just to the U District but all of Seattle. It is the first and only Sanuki udon noodle shop in the region. Sanuki is a region in the southern Japanese island of Shikoku where the udon noodle originated, and there are many such restaurants in Japan. Chef and owner Tak Kurachi works hard to bring the same authentic Japanese taste and experience to Seattle. Flour and broth ingredients are imported from Japan, and the noodle-making process takes a full 24 hours to ensure a purely Japanese taste.

The noodles are served with a variety of other ingredients: beef, fried tofu, and egg are just a few options. Once you choose the udon of your desire, you may also select side dishes such as crunchy Tempura, Karaage, or Onigiri. In addition to being delicious, the layout of the restaurant makes ordering very easy. Prices are also very reasonable, an important characteristic for a restaurant on the Ave.

Tak wants to make sure that people are getting the best product at an affordable price. “We strive ourselves and take every effort to put out the highest quality,” says Tak. “I love cheffing and food, and I want people to have a true taste of Japan.” Indeed, with the latest success of U:Don, he has made this vision into a reality.

For more information:

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Fight breaks out as city council tours The Ave

June 24th, 2010 by master

Members of the Seattle City Council got a first hand look today at some of the problems along The Ave during a walking tour focusing on safety issues.  In fact, a pushing and screaming match broke out across the street as they talked with local merchants.  We were there as University Police quickly moved in to calm down the fight over a broken iPod.

University of Washington Police respond to a fight during the City Council’s tour.

“We get a lot of weird people doing things like that,” the owner of Gargoyle Statuary said of the altercation. “On our block is a lot of the drug selling.  They’re not here all the time but they’re running back and forth.  You see it all day.”

Councilmembers take a walking tour of The Ave.

Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Sally Bagshaw and Sally Clark, all members of the council’s Public Safety and Education Committee, took part in the tour that stopped in front of several businesses along University Way to hear the problems facing the neighborhood.  One common message was the need for more police.

“Something bad will happen and people will perceive that The Ave is unsafe,” said a manager for Pagliacci.  “There will be an influx of police officers.  But then things will calm down, police will go away, and it starts over again.”

Business owners voice their concerns over drug dealing, panhandling, and graffiti.

Other businesses owners pointed to graffiti and aggressive panhandling.  There was even talk of possibly diverting commercial vehicle and bus traffic off The Ave to help cut down on noise, or even making The Ave a pedestrian boulevard.  But some worry that could only make things worse for businesses trying to survive.

“It’s a great community, it’s a vibrant community, but it certainly has its challenges,” said a representative of the University Bookstore. “We’d like to see some of this behavior leave.”

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