Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This Week in Listening: The Intergalactic Nemesis

Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I traveled to Longview, Texas to enjoy a visit with her family and to catch a performance of The Intergalactic Nemesis. The show, which is touring internationally (though not yet intergalactically), has generated an impressive amount of attention in recent weeks, appearing on both Conan and NPR. Some friends saw it a few years ago and recommended it highly. When we heard that it was touring, we decided it was something we couldn't miss.

The Intergalactic Nemesis is a "live-action graphic novel" that combines voice acting, sound effects, music, and artwork. The production began in Austin, Texas as a live radio play, then expanded to include more than 1,200 illustrations penciled by Tim Doyle. As the illustrations cycle by on a large screen, three voice actors, a pianist, and one intrepid sound effects artist work together to create a fully soundscaped multimedia experience.

The story is set in 1933 and follows tough-as-nails reporter Molly Sloan and her sidekick Timmy Mendez as they investigate a mesmerizer named Mysterion the Magnificent. Their meddling brings them into contact with assassins, a heroic librarian, and a race of gooey, many-eyed aliens called Zygons. It's a two-fisted adventure serial welded to a sci-fi yarn, with plenty of action, humor, and weird creatures along the way.

Creator and producer Jason Neulander has wisely kept the show family-friendly; the performance we attended drew a large number of kids (and not all boys, either). The script and the performances are certainly tongue in cheek, but thankfully the show goes beyond self-aware camp. The Nemesis team has crafted an original and enormously entertaining theatrical experience. It's complex and fully realized, and, as all live radio shows should be, it's great fun to watch.

As a regular creator of audio productions, attending the show was especially fun for me. One of the first things that struck me was how familiar their sound effects kit looked. There was the wind machine, the crash box, the door unit, the various noisemakers and kids' toys, and many of the other mainstays of Chatterbox productions. Nemesis makes creative use of these tools, of course, and there were several effects I will happily steal for our own purposes. But in general, it was nice to see this group successfully touring the globe with the same basic materials and approach that we use.

More than that, though, it was a thrill to be part of an audience that was clearly having so much fun with the production. The three voice actors were terrifically versatile, handling the fast pace and numerous characters with great skill. (Often, one actor would play both roles in a two-character scene, and the interactions were never less than clear.) The show's sound effects artist and musician  got just as much of a workout, each helping maintain a quick pace while adding the layers of sound that really brought the story to life. The energy coming off the stage was infectious, and when the lights came up for intermission, the (large) audience already seemed eager for more.

Anything that helps bring live radio back to the mainstream already has my support. But The Intergalactic Nemesis has the added perk of being slam-bang entertainment and a great time at the theater. If the show comes anywhere near your area, don't miss it. Part One is touring now, and I believe Part Two will follow suit after its debut this summer.

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