The time is the 1930s. The place is the wintry mountains of the Alps. You are part of a journalism team investigating a promising lead when BAM! Attack! Your lead is gone -- but a bigger story is looming. You're trapped! Now you are on the run, the literal fate of the planet on your shoulders as you race around the globe and solar system, trying to stop an alien invasion of epic proportions.
Such is the world of Intergalactic Nemesis Target Earth, which makes its South Florida debut Saturday at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, courtesy of Culture Shock Miami.
Created by Jason Nuelander, Intergalactic Nemesis got its start in an Austin coffee house, before turning into a radio drama. A later incarnation saw the work develop into a graphic novel featuring illustrations by Tim Doyle, and it now comes to the stage as a live action graphic novel.
Performed by a cast of three, along with an organist, and live sound effects, Target Earth is set in 1933 and follows a reporter, her assistant and a librarian, as they discover the pending Zygonian sludge monster alien invasion and their attempts to thwart it. Each actor voices multiple characters as images from the graphic novel flash on screen behind them. For their part, audiences are encouraged to boo and cheer on the action to their hearts' delight.
"The show really lends itself to audience participation. It's really cool and happened very organically," says Austin-based actor Chris Gibson, who has been touring with the production for the past seven years. He performs the voices of over 13 characters in the show. "People really get into the show, they boo the villain and cheer the hero. Before the show we try and give them license to participate."
The content isn't the only thing that opens itself to such participation -- it's also the format of the show. Target Earth is part one of a trilogy: Book Two, Robot Planet Rising and Book Three, The Twin Infinity, which had its world premiere this season, are often brought back to cities they have previously toured, allowing audiences to follow the story and immerse themselves more completely in the world of Intergalactic Nemesis.
This dynamic also allows the performers to build relationships with communities and deeper understanding of their characters. "It's so cool to see the character arc. In most traditional theater runs, you are lucky to have two to three weeks of rehearsal and a four-week run cycle. You're ready to go by opening night, but you don't really get into the character, usually until the end of the run," says Gibson on his time with the production. "It's rare to run for such an extended period. [With Intergalactic Nemesis] I can really develop the subtleties of the character, understand their background. It's a real joy and real gift to be able to grow these characters."
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After each show, the cast can be found in the lobby, meeting and conversing with the audiences, signing autographs, taking pictures, and talking with audience members about the characters and their choices. "In a show like this, audiences find ways to engage. Every single second is rehearsed within an inch of its life -- it's not an improvised free for all. Every element that is happening is part of the show, and is done by an artist, but we give the audiences the leeway and freedom to make it different theatrical experience every night," Gibson says.
During their residency in Miami, the company will also present a free workshop at 11 a.m. on Saturday for community members who are interested in learning what it takes to bring a graphic novel to life on stage. Will the earthlings prevail, or will audiences leave, enslaved by their new sludge monster alien overlords? Only time will tell, or at the very least the next two installments of Intergalactic Nemesis.
Intergalactic Nemesis Target Earth takes the stage on Saturday at 8 p.m., at SMDCAC, 10950 SW 211th St., Miami. Tickets range from $20-$30, special student pricing available with ID; 786-573-5300; smdcac.org.