Dispatches From RIAF 2014 Part 2: Alien Invasion

Festival

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY OCT 17, 2014

It’s three minutes to showtime as I pull into a parking spot at the far end of the lot outside the Asolo Repertory Theatre. The lots nearly full as the Ringling International Arts Festival hits full stride on its second day, with a total of nine performances from the gathered artists. I jog across the lot thinking that, depending on the situation I find at the doors, my timing is either perfect or lousy.

I’m here to see The Intergalactic Nemesis, a live-action graphic novel created in the style of an old-fashioned radio drama, with all the familiar campiness and pulp. Three actors voice all the characters and a foley artist will create all sound effects live on stage while over 1000 hand-drawn illustrations are projected across the backdrop.

I show my ticket and they steer me to my seat in Mertz Theatre. Looking to the stage, a great projection screen starkly contrasts the carven proscenium that contains it, flanked on the left by a glowing Apple laptop partially hidden behind three chairs facing the audience and a line of vintage-looking microphones. Center stage is dominated by an enclosure of tables with a perplexing assortment of odds and ends—shoes, chains, toys, cinder blocks, to name a few—with a lone microphone jutting into the middle. To the right a piano gleams blackly.

The woman seated next to me is a journalist from Fort Myers, where she writes for a newspaper. She came to RIAF last year and she’s returned today for a few shows. She saw The Table earlier, which she describes as “witty” and “intelligent,” saying the puppet really “comes alive.” I tell her I’m hoping to catch it Saturday.

Then the lights dim and we’re ready to begin. Our three actors, Rachel Landon, Brock England and Jeffery Mills, assemble at their microphones in full costume. Cami Alys, the foley artist, takes her place in the enclosure, surrounded by her makeshift tools. Harlan Hodges, a lone pianist, supplies the soundtrack, improvised each night.

The story follows Molly Sloan, intrepid Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and her assistant Timmy Mendez as they uncover nefarious plots and sinister machinations, all in the name of a good story. It’s a classic globetrotting adventure with aliens and mad scientists and spaceships and explosions. Before long I’m laughing, whooping and hissing along with the rest of the crowd.

Landon, England and Mills shift voices and mannerisms with practiced ease, performing their hearts out to engage the audience. Alys, in her jaunty blue pillbox hat, deftly maneuvers from prop to prop, mimicking everything from trains to footsteps, from rivers of ooze to roaring fires and fistfights. She and Hodges perform along with the rest, pulling double-duty on stage. Hodges’ fingers never seem to rest and he never seems lost, making it up as he goes along.

If the actors are the meat, Alys is the punctuation and Hodges is the pathos. Watching it all come together in front of your eyes creates a magic almost entirely unlike anything else in a world obsessed with hiding the wires. It’s not about tricking the audience, it’s about showing us how much fun it is to just go along and imagine with them.

“It expands imagination by exposing them to that creativity,” said Alys. “As far as the foley and the sound effects, it is, especially for kids and maybe for adults too, inspirational and makes it accessible.”

“There’s a big risk that’s always being taken when you choose to not play fixed cues, but that’s the fun of it. This show, I feel, can only be done that way,” said Hodges. “It’s so much fun and the audience really does react to that element of kinda danger. Some nights the audience reacts really loudly but sometimes you get reactions you’re not expecting,”

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