Saturday, December 29, 2018

Space Opera for Theatre

I have a special place in my child's heart for space opera.  By that I mean two things.  One, maybe the easiest for most to quickly "get," is that of an epic fantasy in space, a la Star Wars or Babylon 5.  Another flavor of the genre involves more than anything else scale.  Look at Star Trek, at Farscape, at Blake's 7 or for that matter literary works such as David Brin's Earthclan novels, Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space, Elizabeth Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga.  Yeah, space ships and alien worlds, but also stories that touch upon multiple civilizations, about history in some sense both past and future--especially the future as seen by the characters themselves.

Which is cool, but tricky to do for live theatre.  That saddens me.  But methinks I've stumbled upon a way to make this genre work for stage. Not saying this is the only way (I know for a fact it is not).  But--bear with me for a moment.

Dramatic art needs to be entertaining.  In some way, anyway.  Better than nine times out of ten.  Rather that seek to re-create the big budget extravaganzas which Hollywood makes, why not make a virtue out of the necessity of tiny theatrical budgets?  Look back to the origins of the space opera genre, to the movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s, plus the t.v. shows with Rocky Jones, Space Ranger!  Nothing looks very "real" in any way.  A judicious use of Christmas tree lights and buttons or switches becomes the control for a starship.  Blend modern dress with some stuff from those Shakespeare plays you put on and there it is--the costume of some alien ambassador. 

More importantly, you need not do this as camp or farce at all.

Look at the original series of Star Trek or at least half a dozen episodes of the first Twilight Zone.  They could take a chair, throw a plain wall up, stick some container a lamp came in on the table and call it art.  Put a t.v. monitor in the wall and you can call it the personal quarters of the captain of a starship.  But both told serious stories, despite the pajama top uniforms and beeping lights.  Stories about courage and cowardice, about human prejudice and dealing with real tragedy. 

Even Flash Gordon (the black and white serial) was a sincere if melodramatic tale of a fight for liberty against a tyrant, about different peoples learning to work together against a common oppressor.

The main thing is to take this fictional world with its ray guns and unlikely gadgets seriously.  It makes when you think about it just as much sense as people bursting into song.  So treat it the same way you would Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music or Passion.  Apply such seriousness in the writing as well as the performance, allowing the audience to do the same.  Consider how much silliness abounds in many of Shakespeare's comedies--yet nearly all of them carry a melancholy thread.  Likewise most of his tragedies contain quite a bit of humor (Hamlet begins with a Viking warrior afraid of the dark).

Consider also the "Captain Proton" interludes in the series Star Trek: Voyager.  Mostly tiny little vignettes bringing a smile to the lips if not a full laugh.  But when in "Bride of Chaotica" the actions of these fictional beings began to have a real impact, when actual lives were at stake, we suddenly cared!  There was enough to sustain not half a scene but an entire story, and I don't think I was alone in wanting more of the same.  However, after that taste of real drama, Tom Paris' visits to the holodeck with a ray gun and jet pack seemed...lame.

I have already started my own "take" on this idea, even to the point of writing a first draft.  Am actually proud to have found a quasi-scientific justification why a humanoid species would have antennae, and want to make with women from Earth!  But as silly as that idea does sound, the story focuses on finding peace between enemies, on learning to understand each other thus finding a way not to hate, not to kill.

But that is on the back burner.  For now.  Have five other scripts that need priority.  Am letting that one simmer in my unconscious, turning into a hopefully rich stew of ideas and characters and story.  Wanted to share the idea, though, as well as encourage others to maybe use this sort of thing as well.

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