A live-action graphic novel
Imagine it’s 1933 and your mission is to save humanity from an invading force of monsters from outer space. Sound exhilarating? Let’s supplement your imagination with more than a thousand two-story tall, high-resolution comic book images, dozens of voiced characters performed by live actors and hundreds of sound effects created by a Foley artist and you’ll have “The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth,” the first in a trilogy of graphic novels brought to the stage in a one-of-a kind performance. This unique experience will be at the Victoria Theatre on Friday, Feb. 1 as part of the Projects Unlimited Variety Series.
Dayton City Paper had the opportunity to talk with creator and director, Jason Neulander, about the conception and development of the living, breathing phenomenon that is “The Intergalactic Nemesis.”
Where and how did all of this begin?
It started in Little City Coffeehouse, in downtown Austin, Texas. Ray Colgan, one of the original authors, worked there. I had just founded Salvage Vanguard Theater, a company devoted to the development and production of new plays. Ray approached me about creating a sci-fi radio play that would be performed and recorded at Little City in front of a live audience. I thought it was a great idea and, long story short, we did it! -Jason Neulander
How long after the radio play was developed were the graphic novel and then the stage show put into action?
The original radio play we did was created in 1996. I came up with the idea to add comic-book images in 2009 when I was invited to bring the radio play into the Long Center for the Performing Arts’ 2400-seat theatre. I felt that venue was way, way too big for the intimate experience of viewing a radio play. In a flash, the image of comic-book artwork projected on a screen the size of the proscenium came into my head. It took about 15 months to create all the art – 1,250 individual full-color comic-book panels. We premiered the live-action graphic novel version of the show in September 2010. -JN
Which came first when developing the characters, the voice or the look?
Because the project got its start as a radio play, it’s more like the look of the characters came from their voicings rather than the other way around. When I’m writing the shows, I often read the dialogue aloud and, in fact, even with the sequels, which are meant to be seen in the live-action graphic novel format, I start by writing a radio script. -JN
Does your performance change based on the audience’s reactions?
Yes, but more than in the voice acting. Each individual comic-book image on screen is cued by hand based on a sound in the show. The actors’ lines, the sound effects and the music all cue slides, but the audience’s response also cues a bunch of slides. Also, much of the music in the show, while cued in the script, is improvised in performance. So it really is a quite live performance all around. -JN
Your audiences have been completely enamored with the sound design of the show. You use many children’s toys to create the sound effects, such as a slide whistle and a voice changer. What other children’s toys or unexpected objects might people look forward to seeing put to use on stage during the performance?
There’s mac and cheese for the sound of a train. There’s a toy cement truck for the sound of robot servos. Five-tone tubes make the sound of hypnotism. There are literally hundreds of gadgets that get used to make the sound effects. -JN
I seem to remember an episode of “Punky Brewster” where Punky, Cherie and Margaux have their sound effect equipment stolen right before they’re due to put on a radio play, and they have to find objects in the studio to replace them (memorably a toilet seat and lid). Have you ever found yourself in this or a similar situation?
That’s a funny question because when we originally did the radio version back in the ‘90s, the way it worked was that we literally only had a day to create the sound effects for the episodes that would be recorded that week. So Buzz [Moran, “The Intergalactic Nemesis” sound effects designer] and I would rummage through his kitchen and closets to try to find stuff that would make decent sounds. Some of those extremely spontaneous choices are still used in the show today. A great example is the sound of hypnotism. -JN
Has this huge, internationally traveling stage show been a life plan all along? Or are you just going with the flow of success?
Just going with the flow. I don’t think you can plan a tour like this unless you have the money to make it all happen yourself (which I don’t). This show has been successful beyond my wildest imagination. And I get the sense that we’re really just at the beginning of that journey. -JN
“The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth” will be at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., on Friday, Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $26 to $36 and may be purchased in person at the box office of the Schuster Center, by phone at 937.228.3630, or online at www.ticketcenterstage.com. For more information about “The Intergalactic Nemesis” and the company of people who bring it to life, visit www.theintergalacticnemesis.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at firstname.lastname@example.org