The Intergalactic Nemesis at DPAC
Kevin Noonan | Thursday, January 30, 2014
The one-of-a-kind thrill and amazement of “The Intergalactic Nemesis” returns to Notre Dame this weekend, as creator, writer, production designer and director Jason Neulander and his cast and crew present both their original production, “The Intergalactic Nemesis — Book One: Target Earth.” The group performed this piece in the Browning Cinema two years ago, as well as their sequel, “The Intergalactic Nemesis — Book Two: Robot Planet Rising.”
The show in the spring of 2012 received rave reviews from at least one prominent theater critic in The Observer’s Scene section (me), and, as can be seen from the director below, the sequel aims to repeat and enhance the fun.
For a little background on the show, it combines a full graphic novel projected onto a screen behind the stage with actors reading and acting the script like a radio play on stage. Meanwhile, a Foley artist works in center stage creating all of the sound effects live for the action in the play. It’s an exhilarating and truly entertaining concept that the cast and crew executed magnificently for the first show. Neulander agreed to speak over the phone before the performance this weekend, and the full transcript of the interview is below. “Intergalactic Nemesis — Book One: Target Earth” will begin at 2:00 p.m. Saturday in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and tickets will be $10. “Intergalactic Nemesis Book Two: Robot Planet Rising” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in DPAC and tickets will start at $15.
KN: We talked two years ago when you came through and I just re-listened to the interview, it was interesting because one of the things you talked about was that you were about to be touring around the world, you went to Edinburgh, you played on Broadway, you played at the Kennedy Center. But when you came to Notre Dame two years ago you were still starting to build momentum. It was still a brand new show. I’m curious what it’s like now four years into the show now that you’ve achieved so much success what it’s like looking back on where you’ve come from?
JN: It’s funny you say that, success is a wonderfully moving target. But it feels amazing. Everything that’s happened with the project so far has been nothing but a dream come true. It’s really hard to believe that when I launched a show in 2010, I had no idea that all of this would happen. It’s totally remarkable looking back, just amazing.
KN: When you last came here you were debuting “Book One,” and now you guys have “Book Two” on tour, where does the story take off from “Book One” into “Book Two”?
JN: So “Book Two” picks up two weeks after “Book One” ends, and it is important for folks to know that you definitely do not have to see “Book One” to see “Book Two.” The story in “Book Two” does stand alone; there’s definitely no obligation to see both. In “Book Two,” my biggest inspiration for “Robot Planet Rising” was my relationship as a viewer for “Empire Strikes Back.” “Star Wars” kind of sets up that universe and then “Empire Strikes Back” kind of makes it darker and more complex and introduces some great new characters, and that’s exactly what we tried to do with “Robot Planet Rising.” So basically it picks up two weeks later, Timmy and Molly are still on Romanovia when their guide, the guy who kind of introduced them on that world. Elbee-Dee-Oh, disappears into deep space, and it’s up to Molly and Timmy to find out what happened to him. But at the same time, unbeknownst to Molly and Timmy, through a crazy set of bizarre circumstances, Molly’s former fiancée, Dr. Lawrence Webster, finds himself on Romanovia at exactly the same time. Needless to say, things get very complicated very quickly. I’ll leave it there. It’s filled with mystery; it’s filled with adventure. Yeah, I guarantee you it delivers.
KN: With such a busy touring schedule, how do you find time to write this and coordinate with the artists and stuff like that?
JN: That’s such a great question because I really don’t know. We’re in the middle of developing “Book Three” and it is extremely difficult to find the time, although somehow I managed to do it. But looking back on it as I’m working on it now I’m like, “What the hell did I do last time?” and I honestly don’t remember so it’s all kind of a blur.
KN: I don’t mean to come off as insulting with this question, but how do you keep it fresh? I know with the first one, one of the things I loved so much about it was that it was a totally new experience; I’d never seen anything like it before. How do you keep the energy fresh in the sequel and keep it from being stale?
JN: For me, the reason I’ve stuck with this project is really it’s all about the characters for me. So the mechanism by which we’re delivering the story, the format of the live show, to me is secondary to the experience of trying to do our best to tell a great story and develop great characters. I think with “Book Two,” the format is the same and audiences that saw “Book One” will immediately understand how to watch this new chapter in the series, the story is really kind of developed at a pretty high level. It’s pretty different in feel from “Book One.” Like “Book One” was really pretty straight up episodic adventure; in “Book Two” what we do is we take four of what appear to be completely distinct, separate story arcs and over the course of act one weave those together so you’re like “Oh, that’s what’s going on.” And then act two takes off like a rocket ship and never stops once all the arcs come together. One of the big inspirations for “Book Two” was the movie “The Big Sleep.” It stars Humphrey Bogart, and it’s a film noir detective story. Timmy follows this mystery story arc, for example, and that has a pretty different feel from anything in “Book One.” And likewise introducing Lawrence Webster and his assistant Dr. Natasha Zorokov as characters, there’s one like them in “Book One1.’ And then when Natasha and Molly get together, which happens pretty early in act one of ‘Robot Planet Rising,’ they’re such great foils for one another, you can’t help but get caught up in their story. Plus, with ‘Book One’ you had one actor doing a lot of multiple roles and the other two actors doing basically individual characters. With ‘Book Two,’ each of the three actors, there’rs six main characters and each of the actors plays two. So there’s a lot of vocal pyrotechnics going on that you just didn’t get in ‘Book One.
KN: I’m looking at your touring schedule, and you’ve Hawaii, Canada, all over the world, but I’ve got to imagine that this is just a fun thing to be doing. Does it feel like work to you guys?
JN: It really is fun. One of the really fun things about when we get to bring the sequel back to a venue is, what happens when we bring ‘Book One’ is most everybody who comes to see the show really has no idea what they’re in for. And they come in curious and I really think they walk out fans. But what happens with ‘Book Two’ is now usually the audience is about half and half people who’ve seen the first one and people who haven’t. The people who’ve seen the first one, they’re already invested in the show and they bring this energy into the room, it’s kind of like a rock concert. It’s really amazing. And because the audience now, at least half of them, know how to watch the show, from the get-go they’re in it. And that’s really remarkable, and so far it totally has not gotten old. That’s something everybody talks about after pretty much every performance just how amazing the audience reaction is. So that’s definitely one of the main things that keeps it fun. Plus we get to be tourists also a little bit while we’re traveling so that’s pretty fun, too.
KN: You’re four years into this, you’re writing ‘Book Three’ right now, where’s the future for this show? Or are you even looking that far? Where do you see this down the road?
JN: Well, with the show itself I think I just want to see how long we can sustain touring all three productions. But then with the ‘Intergalactic Nemesis’ universe that we’ve created, I’m already looking at expanding that. Right now I’m in the beginning of developing a podcast based on Jean-Pierre Desperois who’s one of the secondary characters in ‘Target Earth.’ My dream of the project would be to see the main trilogy a series of feature films, I’d love to develop a couple of television series out of it, I’d love to see a couple characters take on a life in a trade paperback novel series. So for me, now that we’re at the tail end of developing the live productions and that’s starting to take on a life of its own, I’m really starting to focus on how can I expand the title, how can I expand the characters and how can I just raise much greater awareness among the general population of what this project is.