Science Fiction … Theatre?: Sci-Fest Launches With a Bang

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Sci-Fest LA 2014
seen at The Acme Theatre in Los Angeles

Last October, I attended a production of Lovecraft on stage, writing how it’s inevitable that horror stories get produced around Halloween. What I didn’t write was my realization that – despite its ever-growing popularity in movies, television, and even podcasts – science fiction (and I use that phrase in its broadest form) doesn’t really have much of a presence on the stage.

David Dean Bottrell must’ve felt the same, as on January 17, 2014, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to create Sci-Fest, a science fiction one-act play festival in Los Angeles. Successfully funded, the first year of the festival showcases a total of nine plays divided between two nights of performance, starring many actors known for their work in science fiction.

I attended the performance of Evening A, which was comprised of four plays divided into two acts: “Forwarding Address” by John-Paul Nickel, “Freedom of Speech” by Adam Esquenazi Douglas and “The Ringer” by Minnesota Plates made up the first act; the festival centerpiece, a production of Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope”, made up the second.

Walking into the intimate theatre space at Acme, one of the first things I noticed was a series of five television screens – three on the back wall, and two in front of the lights. These screens were used at the beginning of each act with a neat little science fiction-styled piece giving the usual reminder to turn off electronic devices; they also showed short videos interspersed between the plays, covering up the (somewhat lengthy) scene changes, filled with scenes that clued us in to what the next piece was going to be about.

The first piece was “Forwarding Address”: the idea of getting a message from the future, and the consequences of that. Two couples (one engaged and expecting, and one that just got engaged) get a message about how the engaged couple’s life was going to go downhill. Which couple it’s referring to, and why the messenger is so eager to have the message received, is played out well, if a touch on the predictable side. It ended abruptly, feeling like there is more to the story: it would make a great first scene of a full-length play.

1st Annual Sci-Fest in Los Angeles
1st Annual Sci-Fest in Los Angeles

“Freedom of Speech” is acted beautifully by James Kyson as a man who has undergone vocal chord removal because he was considered a rebellious figure. However, it’s a bit anvilicious in its theme of the power of speech in changing the world.

Act I then wrapped up with “The Ringer”, taking place in a church in the middle of what appears to be an alien invasion (or perhaps settlement at this point). Bottrell plays a teacher trying to hold the fort while … something … is outside. The tech on this one was well done, playing perfectly in that concept of “showing nothing”. However, the ending was a little ambiguous: without spoiling it too much, Bottrell does something and it’s a bit unclear as to why he does it.

The first act was intriguing in concept, if a little flat at times in execution. I had the same issue with these that I did with that Lovecraft production mentioned above: in the land of Hollywood, I would hope that the tech in a science fiction show would be more, well, science fiction. The pieces weren’t bad, by any means, but could use a little more work to make them truly excellent.

The second act, however, was exceptional, showing why Bradbury is still considered a science fiction master. It’s a tale of seven astronauts on a journey: there’s a crash and a bang and sudden freefall for our heroes, as well as the realization that the movie Gravity may have ‘borrowed’ quite a bit from this story. Directed by Pat Towne with a lighting design by master electrician Brad Bentz, the production remembered this is live theatre, not a movie or a television show, breaking into the audience space and using lights (and the lack thereof) to lead into the concept that these actors are in space and not on a stage. And while all seven actors were excellent, special mention needs to go out to Dean Haglund, playing the captain Hollis, and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, playing the cynic Applegate. “I count because I remember,” says Lespere (Patricia Tallman), in a mesmerizing story that explores that how we die reflects on how we lived.

There may not be a lot of science fiction on the stage yet, but if this first outing of Sci-Fest is any clue, there will be much more to come – and it will be good.

Sci-Fest runs until June 1, alternating the two productions weekly. More information on the festival, including how to buy tickets for this year and submit a play for next year’s festival, can be found at www.sci-fest.com.

You can see more of Angie’s work over at her website.ย 

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Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, photographer, and all-round fangirl geek. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and primarily covers geek culture, entertainment, and the performing arts. She's been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others. You can see more of her work (and her social media connections) over at her website angiefsutton.com.

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