science fiction through the eyes and ears: Experiencing "robot planet rising: the intergalactic nemesis"
By Joe Ferguson
When I was a boy, my father told me about a radio show he used to listen to with his father. It was called The Shadow, and during the introduction the announcer would give the famous tag line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…The Shadow knows.” The words were accompanied by an ominous laugh--which my father repeated to my great amusement.
I was a geeky little kid who loved Sci-Fi and after-school shows like Ultraman and Speed Racer, so I loved the idea of being able to sit in my room alone and listen to audio shows. It wasn’t until my 20s that I found some recordings of the show at the library and listened to them. Thanks to TV and Youtube, it seemed Radio Days were over--or so we thought.
These days we are witnessing a renaissance in serial radio shows--only this time it is with podcasts. Increased commute times and a lack of interest in reading caused this resurgence, but I also think people enjoy drama and being able to share a discussion about popular aural shows. I had the opportunity recently to hear, and see, the ultimate expression of this renewed interest in audio drama at the Cal Performance’s hosting of Robot Planet Rising: An Intergalactic Nemesis Live-Action Graphic Novel.
The Intergalactic Nemesis is billed as a live-action graphic novel. Essentially, it is a stage performance of a radio play. Three actors voice dozens of characters, seamlessly switching accents between lines. A Foley artist produces hundreds of sound effects from train whistles to spaceship explosions--all of which is done live, without the use of a computer. A talented pianist provides the soundtrack. All the while, more than 1,000 original, full color hi-res comic book images--minus dialogue balloons--are projected onto a screen.
The show was written and directed by Jason Neulander. This performance is the second in a series--Target Earth was the first. In this sequel, set in the 1930’s, Molly Sloan and Timmy Mendez are searching for Commander El-Bee-Dee-Oh, who is lost in space. Things get complicated when Molly’s former fiancé shows up with his assistant, and Soviet spy, Natasha Zorokov. Eventually, Molly and Timmy discover that the evil Alphatron has created a heinous plot that threatens not only Robonovia, the Robot Planet, but Earth as well.
The Intergalactic Nemesis was entertaining, and the amount of energy the performers put into the show was impressive. I found it interesting, and ironic, that a science fiction show eschewed the use of technology in favor of a palpably human performance. I enjoy when science fiction gets its due, and it was particularly satisfying to see an innovative approach to keeping the genre fresh.
The show was well received and featured on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and NPR's All Things Considered.
To see some videos of The Intergalactic Nemesis click here. If you’d prefer to read the graphic novel, you can find it, as well information about the tour, on the theatre company’s website.