When it comes to stories my first love is science-fiction. I’m willing to bet that is true of a majority of Nerlocker readers. I’m also willing to go out on a limb and say I bet not a lot of Nerdlocker readers make it out to see live theater very often. I hate to generalize, but am I wrong? Well, The Intergalactic Nemesis is not your parent’s live theater. In fact I dare say there is nothing out there on the stage that is quite like this. There are many elements to The Intergalactic Nemesis, and calling it live-action sci-fi only scratches the surface. Conceived in the 90′s, it started out as a radio play, evolved into a fully realized comic book, then became a live-action sci-fi stage production circa 2008. It’s what might have happened if The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, A Prairie Home Companion and EC Comics got super drunk together at a party in the 1950′s. In other words, a whole lot of Nerd-tastic awesome.
Still a little unsure of what, exactly, The Intergalactic Nemesis is? I’ll try to break it down for you. It’s a little like a comic book coming to life. First, you have a stage. On that stage are a large number of noise making and sound effect devices. In other words, live foley. To one side of this cornucopia of sound are three actors behind vintage microphones. To the other side a keyboard player making musical magic. And above them all is a screen that displays the panels from the comic, sans dialogue. The voice actors ARE the characters in the panels, and together with the original music and live foley, they act out the story. It’s a great idea, right? But beyond just being a good idea, The Intergalactic Nemesis has so many other things going that bring it together into something rather extraordinary.
First, it’s got a great story! It follows the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Molly Sloan, and her young research assistant, Timmy Mendez, in the year 1933 as they investigate an informant’s assassination. This event sends them on a journey that leads them into the path of a sinister hypnotist known as Mysterion the Magnificent and later on to an encounter with an alien sludge-monster race called The Zygonians, who are, of course, bent on exterminating the human race! And that’s just Book One!
Book Two follows our heroes to Planet Robonovia, the Robot Planet, as they investigate the strange goings on there and Timmy discovers some very interesting talents of his own.
Backing up the great stories is a cast of extremely talented voice actors, foley artists and musicians. Graham Reynolds composed the original score and Buzz Moran designed the foley effects for both books. You’ve probably heard these names before. They both recently worked on the sci-fi stage play here in Austin, Spacestation 1985. Reynolds is the band leader of Austin’s Golden Arm Trio and composed the score for Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly . As well as the more recent Linklater film, Bernie. Buzz Moran also worked on A Scanner Darkly and Bernie, in addition to performing in the well respected sound effects and dialogue troupe, Foleyvision, and being co-founder of The Dionysium.
Tying all of this together, of course, is the incredible artwork of the comic books. Book One: Target Earth was drawn by none other than our good friend here at Nerdlocker (and now contributing writer!!!), Tim Doyle. Book Two: Robot Planet Rising was drawn by David Hutchison, who works heavily in the world of MANGA!. If you are unfamiliar with the artwork of either of these two amazing artists, you should go check them out right now!!!
All of these things come together to create a one-of-a-kind stage production, and you don’t even have to live in Austin to enjoy it. The Intergalactic Nemesis is on TOUR! Click HERE to check out their tour dates (more to be added!). I recently experienced the Book One and Two double feature at Austin’s Stateside at the Paramount theater, and the house was PACKED. And it was packed with every type of person and their kids, and everyone having a laugh-riot of a good time. Sorry, did I mention that this is an all ages-appropriate show? Seriously, if you have kids you won’t need to find a sitter to go see this, just take them along, they’ll love it! The whole family can geek out together. And if you don’t have kids, well, this show might just make you remember what it was like to be one. And that is a really really good thing.
I recently talked to the director, producer and co-creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis, Jason Neulander, to learn more about how his brainchild became such a phenomenon.
Nerdlocker (NL): Tell me a bit about the evolution of The Intergallactic Nemesis from the original radio play to what it is now…
Jason Neulander (JL): This project started as a total lark. Back in1996 I had just started Salvage Vangarde Theater, which was a company that was all about developing and producing new plays by, for and about young people, my peers, in their twenties. This guy, Ray Colgan, was working in a coffee house in downtown Austin called Little City, and he was like “Hey, how would you feel about doing a sci-fi radio play in the coffee house I work in?” I thought it was a great idea so we literally jumped in and started doing it. It was very quick and dirty, literally thrown together, but there was a huge audience that came out for it. We did it serially, we did two episodes a week for five weeks and we recorded it on a four track. KUT ended up broadcasting it the next summer and I just decided that this was a project I wouldn’t do on a regular basis but was worth returning to every once in awhile.
I thought the essence of the story was clearly something people enjoyed and connected to. So about four years later we went back to it and edited it down to an evening length show and recorded it digitally. A year later we did a sequel for a couple of performances. A few years after that we came up with the idea for a third one, and at that point, in 2005/06 we started having the opportunity to tour the radio version of it. After a year of touring I realized it needed vast improvement, so my friend Chad Nichols and I went in and did a complete script overhaul. And truthfully we ended up with a script that I am really proud of.
Around 2008 the opportunity came along to bring it into commercial production in New York City. So a major producing office in NYC brought us up to do a reading of the show. The flew us up, housed us, etc. But this was right when the economy was collapsing, and long story short, the guy who owned the company, who needed to green light it, didn’t show up to the reading. And we got strung along a bit, you know I don’t think there were any bad intentions but they couldn’t get an answer from their boss and they were still interested but the economy was still collapsing. So at that time I thought the project was dead but then I got an invitation completely out of the blue to bring it to Dell Hall at the Long Center, which is a 2400 seat theater. I was ecstatic, but I thought the environment was too big for the intimate experience of a radio play. But then I had this vision of projecting comic book artwork the size of the proscenium, to tell the story visually and make a spectacle that could fill a space that big. It took us fifteen months to get the artwork done, we premiered it and within ten days we started booking a major national tour.
NL: So how did Tim Doyle get involved?
JN: Tim had done backdrops for the radio version over the years. We had met through this space that no longer exists called Gallery Lombardi. We did an iteration of the radio version there and we converted that space into a theater for six weeks. Now that whole place is condos!
Anyway, we had been talking for a long time about developing a comic book version of the story. So I had him do an issue on spec, and on that one issue, basically the first seventh of the show, we were able to get investment dollars and I could pay him to finish the artwork.
NL: Tell me about the inspiration for the main characters… did you draw specifically on famous sci-fi or noir characters?
JL: For me, Molly is hugely inspired by the character Rosalind Russell plays in His Girl Friday. Which, if you haven’t seen that movie, is an absolute must see. It is the best dialogue script of any movie ever made. It’s a comedy about the news industry in the 1940′s. Russell stars with Cary Grant, and the two of them are absolutely amazing.
And then Timmy is part Jimmy Olsen, part Ray Colgan and part, well, me. You know, the kind of innocent, optimistic, caught-up-in-circumstances kind of quality that he has.
Ben is no doubt is referencing Indiana Jones a little bit. The idea of an archeologist being an action hero is so, if you think about it, completely preposterous. So the idea of a librarian, even more bookish than an archeolologist, being an action hero, well that was how that idea came about. For me personally Ben is the character I identify with most. He’s an everyday guy thrown into a circumstance that consumes him and he’s truly a hero by circumstance, driven to succeed against all odds. There’s no reason he should succeed other than sheer force of will. So on a personal level, on my own sort of life journey, I really identify with Ben Wilcott, which is probably why I’ve stuck with this project for so long.
NL: What would you say are the greatest differences between Book One and Book Two? They’re both super fun but they are both great for totally different reasons.
JN: So you have to keep in mind that Book One was a rewrite of material we had years ago, and we already knew it was going to be a trilogy, so we very specifically structured Book One to be an introduction to the universe we’re working in. It’s a very straightforward narrative story that takes you scene by scene, place by place, through a journey as seen through the eyes of Molly and Timmy. And to some degree Ben as their world view opens up and they discover that they are part of something much bigger than they thought.
With Book Two we’ve established that world so I wanted to tell a story that was darker and more complicated with new and interesting characters. In particular what we’ve done, instead of having a narrative that takes you from scene a to scene b to scene c with the same main characters in every scene, we created a more complicated braid of a story that has disparate story lines. And in such a way that the audience isn’t even sure how they are connected, but the audience also has more information than any individual character. It’s essentially a mystery. So unlike the first one, where I think the story telling is pretty conventional and the audience can probably guess the outcome if they really thought about it, in Book Two we wanted to create a story where no one would figure it out until it actually happened. And in that sense I think it’s pretty satisfying.
NL: So all of us here at Nerdlocker are big fans of Tim Doyle’s work. So of course we automatically love Book One. The style for Book Two is quite a bit different. Tell us about the artist for Book Two.
JN: His name is David Hutchison and he’s based out of San Antonio. He works a lot with Antarctic Press and does mostly Manga style books. Lee Duhig, our colorist on both books, introduced me to David’s work. And I have to say he is a meticulous draftsman. He and Tim are such different artists and the thing that brings the two books together is definitely the coloring. Without the color you’d really notice the differences in styles. Tim has an incredible sense of motion and spontaneity and composition. And David is a meticulous draftsman, so setting Book Two entirely on Robonovia, and having an artist like David who could fill out all the details of what a robot planet would look like was just incredible.
NL: I saw Nemesis on Conan O’Brian a few months back, how did that come about?
JN: That was because, for a short time, I was working with a commercial booking agency called Gersh. And my agent there had been working on getting us in touch with Conan for awhile. I think the pivot point that made this happen was the NPR piece about us, and that happened in kind of an amazing way. Years ago I had been interviewed by NPR for a series they did about regional theater. In 2011 I contacted that same interviewer, figuringI’d leave a voicemail that wouldn’t get returned because he wouldn’t remember who I was. But to my amazement he actually picked up the phone and remembered me. He couldn’t do the story, though, because he’s based on the east coast and he felt like it needed to be what he called a “fully produced” piece. So it became this crazy round-about thing where he connected me with various news producers, who connected me to Weekend Edition’s Peter Bressler, who picked it up. Audie Cornish had become the host of the weekend show, but then she got moved to All Things Considered. She fell in love with the project and took the story with her. So all of the sudden we were drive-time weekday programming with All Things Considered. Within ten days of that story being broadcast we got the call that they wanted us to be on Conan.
NL: So are you currently touring both Book One and Book Two?
JN: Yes, we’re touring both books right now. The tour started a few months ago in Indiana. We’re doing a lot of going out and coming back right now. But starting in January the show is on the road every week but two through June and I keep getting more fill in opportunities. We’ve got a few dates in Hawaii at the top of the tour. A week at The Kennedy Center in DC, two weeks on Broadway at The New Victory Theater, a big festival in S. Carolina, a week in Scotland, which I’m hoping will lead to a huge European tour. I think Nemesis today could be the single most booked touring theatrical production in America that hasn’t played New York.
NL: Are you heading out to the west coast by chance?
JN: Yeah, I’m working on that right now. But it’s likely we’ll be playing in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver. It’s going to be great. We should end up with five to nine weeks of touring out there.
NL: The evolution of Nemesis reminds me a bit of the evolution of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide. It started as a novel, then radio play, then a few film versions.
JN: Yeah, that makes sense. And that also has these great characters that you identify with as is also really funny. And it very knowingly spoofs sci-fi. I mean, Hitchhiker is a little more spoofy than Nemesis, but some of the inspiration from Nemesis certainly comes from that. As well as from things like Flash Gordon, Star Wars, Raiders, there’s elements of The Terminator in there, Back to the Future. Pretty much every 80s sci-fi movie.
NL: Okay, last question. What would you say your top three favorite genre films are?
JN: I’m going to be so incredibly obvious with this. And I’m going to give you my top five, in order. Number five is Raiders of the Lost Arc. Number four is probably The Ring, I love that movie. It’s one of the scariest movies ever made. Number three is The Exorcist. The reason I like those two movies, the reason they are so scary, is because it’s all about the suspense. I mean it’s excellent acting with great scripts too.
Number two is Alien, also an amazing suspense film. And number one is, of course, Star Wars. The original, 1977. If anyone wants to argue about how Empire is a better picture than Star Wars I encourage them to email me and I’ll get into it with them.
NL: I’ve actually gotten into that discussion before. I feel like Empire is a more sohpisticated film but for me, hands down, A New Hope is the most fun to watch. It’s the most entertaining and the most satisfying.
JN: Yeah, it’s the best. There are no mistakes in that movie. There are big mistake in Empire. From Princess Leia fixing the Millennium Falcon to…
NL: Why is that a mistake?
JN: Well come on, don’t get me wrong. Princess Leia is a bad-ass. She’s a fighter. I don’t doubt she could wield a lightsaber as good as anyone, though they never show that side of her. But I’m sorry, she thinks the Millennium Falcon is a hunk of junk.
JN: I mean, that scene where she is tinkering around and she and Han kiss for the first time, it’s a great scene but it makes no sense. And the fact that in the two days, or maybe even twelve hours in which Leia and Han escape from Hoth and get to Cloud City, Luke Skywalker has entirely learned his full Jedi powers from Yoda, that’s a major continuity problem. So unless they were on the run for a couple of months, or living in that asteroid for that time, which they weren’t… you know. Star Wars on the other hand, particularly the development of Luke, it’s such a great coming of age story. Just perfectly executed.
Well, whether you agree with him about Star Wars or not, you should really take the time to look into The Intergalactic Nemesis. It’s a great show that has garnered it’s following primarily through word of mouth, fans just like us telling their friends that they’ll love it. Check out the TOUR DATES PAGE to find out if they are coming to a city near you.
The Intergalactic Nemesis on Conan O’Brian
The trailer for Book One:
The trailer for Book Two: