Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sci-fi hits the stage




During my tenure in the theater, I often wondered why more plays of this nature were never performed.  This article gives a succinct answer to my wondering: "most theater is made out of wood."
Theater is a fundamentally low-tech medium.  Sure, there are a multitude of productions such as Wicked that could never be performed without the aid of technology, but the vast majority of plays staged across the country are little more than one-room dramas.  There is a wooden backdrop, there is furniture, and there is precious little else.  I have acted in over twenty stage productions.  Each one was but a subtle variation on that template, the exception to that being Dracula.  
In order to provide the kind of science fiction tropes expected by a modern audience... things such as robots, alien slime, mutants, and spaceships...a theater company must be possessed of steel, silicon tech, and a hell of a lot of cash.

But now, as if permitted by some unforeseen authority, science fiction has come crashing to New York theater in a big way.  It has come in the form of shows like "Bellona, Destroyer of Cities," Samuel Delaney's "Dhalgren," Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" (Blade Runner, for those of you who prefer movies to books or stage), and even Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space." 

I find this to be a fundamentally beneficial turn of events, if for no other reason than it gave me pause to be reminded of what "science fiction" truly means.  It is rather saddening that theater production companies feel a need to ratchet up their visuals when choosing a science fiction text to put on.  While pulpy tropes are fun and crowd-pleasing (if done with high value invested), that need not be what science fiction is about.  The entire genre was created both in response to progress and in wonderment of what is to come.  There is no better time than now to take a look at the developments of science, technology, and media and to wonder where just where humanity's place will be in the midst of it all.  That is the idea.  
And it doesn't take enough special effects to fill a star cruiser's hold in order to do it.  It doesn't take laser guns.  It doesn't take hot women in gold bikini slave girl costumes.  Not that I am opposed to the latter, per se and I'll go out on a limb to argue that Aristotle didn't mind it either.  "Spectacle" is after all a part of Poetics.  But I digress...
A play can very well be a cast of three on a stage set composed entirely of wood and living room furniture and still be science fictional in concept.  It is all a matter of the development of the characters and the larger themes with which they grapple.

That said, I am calling upon all Strangers to follow me on a quest to the Big Apple to see a live production of "Plan 9 From Outer Space."



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