If you can imagine going to see a live recording of a radio play with giant comic book art being projected on a screen following the narration, and a Foley artist using everyday household items and toys to add a soundtrack of sound effects, then you’ve come close to approximating the experience of the Intergalactic Nemesis. Recently, GeekCLE had the chance to speak with Jason Neulander, writer, director and producer of Intergalactic Nemesis.
So, it’s pretty clear that you have a deep love for theater; how did that all start?
Being the star in the 2nd grade play didn’t hurt but it was probably my mom’s influence. I grew up in the New York area and from the time I was about 8 to my teens, my mom would take me and my sister, about two times a year to Broadway plays. When I was 9 years old, she took us to see Peter Pan and we had front row, mezzanine seats. At curtain call Sandy Duncan flew out over the audience and for a moment we were nose to nose. I was astonished, how was she doing that? I didn’t see the wire, which my family just couldn’t get over, they were like “how could you miss it!” But, I think it was that experience that made me see the audiences’ imagination. That imagination the more you activate that the more successful the experience because you allow the audience the space to bring their own ideas and make their own experiences.
Yes! With Intergalactic Nemesis it’s easy to see the role imagination plays despite the fact that everything is happening in front of the audience, there’s no backstage, no hidden wires.
In theater, the audience has this perception that everything that happens on stage is on purpose which can be a double-edged sword. They can be really unforgiving when you do make mistakes on stage or when the show doesn’t meet their expectations. But if you meet that head on and make every choice visible it can work to your advantage. With Intergalactic Nemesis the audience gets to pay attention to all these different elements with no one backstage, so every choice is visible. With everything that’s going on, it’s definitely a lateral thinking person’s play.
There have been a few critics, who have suggested that the play lacks a moral or a clear message. Clearly, these critics lack imagination but what is your response to the naysayers?
The message to the audience – if you want to do something, just do it, don’t worry if you aren’t an expert or don’t have the money. Don’t let naysayers hold you back! There! That’s the moral of the Intergalactic Nemesis. But seriously, there is so much value in activating imagination. I hope the resourcefulness of doing everything in front of the audience inspires someone else to go our there and make art. There were times when we first started that Foley artist, Buzz Moran and I would rummage through his kitchen and closets at home right before the show to find things to make sound effects. It’s that scrappiness that I think plays well with the tone and content of the play that being resourceful or improvising saves the day.
And to incorporate the comic book side of the play, the characters definitely display that scrappiness and resourcefulness that you’re talking about. It’s a pretty common to see that everyman hero trope or that idea that anyone can be a hero. So what comic books inspired you when you were or kid or now as an adult?
As a kid, I liked horror comics, they were short and creepy. Regular comics were frustrating because if you picked one up in the store, you were often starting in the middle of the story or you had to wait a month to find out what happened next and by that time, it was easy to forget what had happened in the last issue. And I was never really into superhero comics then or as an adult. In fact, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really became interested in graphic novels as a medium. A colleague turned me onto Lone Wolf and Cub and I was so interested in how the stories were told visually, and how the pictures did most of the work. At the time, I was trying to find a way to use less words in theater. I know it sounds weird, but I was getting bored with all the non-stop talking, and there’s so much talking in theater. It was also around this time that I started reading Alan Moore, Brian Michael Bendis and Greg Rucka. Alan Moore especially, is just such a powerful story teller.
Amen to that. Did having this exposure or personal experience with the graphic novel/comic book medium make it easier or harder to find an artist to design the graphic novel portion of Intergalactic Nemesis?
Actually working with Tim Doyle was a very organic process. We were doing a live radio show at a gallery where Tim’s work was being displayed and the manager of gallery asked if I wanted a backdrop for when we were doing the show. Tim offered to do it and I’m pretty sure he destroyed his apartment in the process of painting a 12 x 14 feet background that he didn’t even bother to grid. As the project grew so did the backdrops; an 18 x 18 backdrop was painted by professional scenery painters using Tim’s design. Working with Tim gave me insight into the language of comic books for instance, writing a script in a way that an artist can understand how to draw it. Then Tim’s poster business blew up, so I turned to artist David Hutchison for Books 2 & 3. Hutchison is perhaps best known for his anime and steampunk style but was able to develop a remarkably detailed, full on 1940s style for Intergalactic Nemesis. He is an amazing draftsman and his level of detail is incredible. He even worked out a way to get rid of the pixels when the work is blown-up for the stage. It’s very cool.
Aside from the obvious influences like Star Wars and Indiana Jones what else inspired your “inner twelve-year old” to write Intergalatic Nemesis?
I was a voracious reader, lots of sci-fi, Lord of the Rings of course. As an adult I went back and read a lot of pulp science fiction, some of which I read as a kid. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series was a huge influence on Intergalactic Nemesis. That anthology is where to start for your introduction to the genre of sci-fi. It featured classic short stories by Asimov, Bradbury and a slew of other writers. As an adult, another huge influence on Intergalactic Nemesis was the golden-age Hollywood movies, His Girl Friday being the primary inspiration for dialogue. In addition, to influencing the dialogue Rosalind Russell’s character and Katharine Hepburn’s character from a Philadelphia Story were inspiration for Molly’s character in the play. And Marion Ravenwood from Raiders was another huge inspiration for Molly’s character.
Okay, and finally GeekCLE hosts a Show and Tell event in which folks bring a prized geeky possession to share with the group. What would you bring?
Hmmm…it would have to be the Millennium Falcon. I would bring the 2 and half feet long Millennium Falcon my wife bought me for my birthday years ago. It’s sitting on a shelf in our living room right now. I think she was a little surprised when I wanted it displayed so prominently.
No doubt a replica of the Millennium Falcon would be well-received at Show and Tell and envied by many of GeekCLE’s members!
If you haven’t already, go get your tickets for the Jan. 30th showing of Intergalactic Nemesis at Playhouse Square!