Science Fiction’s Increasing Stage Presence: Fringe Festival NYC

Science fiction on stage is not a new concept by any means, but the genre certainly hasn’t amassed the presence in theatre that sci-fi has attained in television and film. (Or music, for that matter.) So it was a nice surprise to see so many shows in this year’s NYC Fringe Festival that were based on science fiction concepts.

The Tor.com staff has been hitting up shows in the area all week (Star Wars vs. Star Trek burlesque, anyone?) and so far what we’ve found has shared a surprising, and unexpected, common thread.

 

Technodoulia. Photo by Kate Gagnon

Technodoulia Dot Com by Kate Gagnon, Ava Darpa, and the company craft a one-act show from a concept we found irresistible: “how the Internet redefines the ways we connect, disconnect, and reconnect with others in a world implanted with the desire to share everything online.”

In a series of vignettes, the five players lay their own online social profiles bare in the show in a brazen piercing of the wall between audience and performer. The point is clear, the frequency and range of personal information available on strangers seems completely banal online, but is terribly uncomfortable in real life.

The intimacy extends even to the wake of their friend and a memorial Facebook Wall that, while teeming with heartfelt messages and goodbyes, remains undermined by Likes and Shares.

The pace is positively hyperactive (you will very quickly lose track of how many dance numbers they’ve gone through) perhaps in mimicry of the hyperactive, attention-grabbing pace of online interaction. This change in the pace of life is felt particularly after the show ends, as the actors come back out and gather together to watch the sunset. As the darkness descends, one by one their handhelds come out, and soon the only light in the theatre is the eerie blue glow framing their faces. Only one of the actors resists this and he ends up being the only one to enjoy the sunset. Afterwards, in the dark, he leaves in silence. No one notices.

 

Theatre of the Arcade. Photo by Hope Cartelli.

Theatre of the Arcade, written by Jeff Lewonczyk, is a full length play split into five stories, each of them a drama assumably based off of a classic arcade game. At least, that’s what the show description calls for: “What happens when arcade stories are given the high literary respect and dramaturgical rigor they deserve?”

In short, you get four intriguing, straightforward dramas that feel as if they inspired the video games themselves, and not the other way around. (Well, you get five, but the fifth is an opening monologue that drags on for twice as along as it should.)

“Donkey Kong” becomes a 1940s exploration of a man who can’t seem to keep a job and who watches that failure cascade into every other aspect of his life. “Pac Man” centers around a gluttonous plutocrat who becomes haunted by those whose lives he so blindly destroys. In perhaps the most literal interpretation, “Asteroids” is a workplace boardroom drama that plays like fanfic. (That sounds odd, but it works really well, I swear.) And finally, “Mario Brothers” deals with a pair of brothers trying to escape each other’s shadow and, ultimately, the repetition of their lives.

 

Zombie Wedding. Photo by Dixie Sheridan

Zombie Wedding, written by Daniel Sturman and R.C. Staab, with music by the former and lyrics/libretto by the latter, is the most normal of the bunch, oddly enough. It’s an 80s pastiche musical that adds the threat of zombies to a straightforward she’s-marrying-the-wrong-guy. (Not really spoilers! She marries the right guy.)

The show is a bit thin, although performed with gusto, and it perks up whenever the characters have to deal with zombies. This is pure conjecture on my part, but it seemed like the show creators needed to bring in a supernatural element in order to make the standard plot a little more engaging. The concept and title certainly draw you in. It’s hard not to pay attention to something called “Zombie Wedding.” And it’s a musical? Very intriguing.

 

In terms of content, these pieces are quite varied. One is a garden variety musical, one a drama, and one a somewhat meta performance piece. Initially, it seemed like the connecting thread between them was that they were all utilizing science fiction elements. And while that’s still the case, I was surprised to find a stronger element linking these three shows to science fiction itself. Namely, that these three shows speak to how we’ve already integrated science fiction into our personal lives.

None of these shows were about exploring a foreign concept that occurs on a distant star or in the future, be it far-flung or near. Rather, they tackled how recent technology and science fiction concepts were already affecting our lives. Technodoulia and Theatre of the Arcade in particular are constructed with a hindsight and nostalgia that would not have been possible 20 years ago.

Even the conception of Zombie Wedding, if not the plot, seems to echo science fiction as it’s been portrayed in visual media for the past decade or so. How many character dramas these days spice up their plots with science fiction or urban fantasy elements? Kind of a lot.

What began as an exploration of SF on stage turned into a surprising affirmation. In essence? The future is now, and we’re just trying to deal with it.


Showtimes and Locations:

Technodoulia Dot Com is playing at The Living Theatre on:

Fri, Aug 19, 2011, 7 pm
Sat, Aug 20, 2011, 2:15 pm
Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 10:30 pm

Theatre of the Arcade is playing at the Bleecker Street Theatre on:

Thurs, Aug 18, 2011, 5:45 pm
Sat, Aug 20, 2011, 4:30 pm
Sat, Aug 27, 2011, 7:45 pm

Zombie Wedding is playing at La MaMa on:

Sat, Aug 20, 2011, 5:15 pm
Wed, Aug 24, 2011, 9:15 pm
Fri, Aug 26, 2011, 7 pm

Visit the Fringe Festival site for tickets, locations, and more info. It’s heavily suggested you buy tix in advance. Nearly all the shows I went to were sold out by the time I got there.


Chris Lough is the production manager at Tor.com and follows Ryan around a lot whistling show tunes.

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