Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sci Fi Theater

I've queried the lack of Science Fiction in theater before, but this Guardian blog post bemoaning the lack of SciFi theater was picked up by sci-fi blog io9, leading to two dramatically different conversations about the place of science fiction in theater.

The Guardian post inspired several theater fans to list some of their favorite and most notable science fiction theater pieces. The commenters are of course right that the term "robot" was actually coined in a theater piece and there are notable ways that theater does do science fiction. While there have been theatrical adaptations of several good scifi/fantasy books (The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials; I remember seeing a clunky performance of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles when I was in high school) You see science fiction done more often in small theaters and in small ways. Theater does well when it exploits campy and b-movie aspects of science fiction, such as Little Shop of Horrors or Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens or when it offers a visions of potential futures, such as Sarah Kane's Cleansed. Of course, there are other exceptions, like Heddatron, and I must say that the Siti Company's War of the Worlds is one of the most impressive things I have seen in a long time.

On io9, the sci-fi fans for the most part accept the premise that sci-fi and theater aren't necessarily suited for each other. Some commenters seem to think that theater itself is dated and not a viable medium for talking about the future. Some ponder the technical constraints of the live theatrical event. It's true that the aesthetics and relationship to technology are inherently different in theater than they are in film or books or comics. But that can be as productive and inspiring as it can be challenging, especially when done well. The suspension of disbelief in theater is different than in other media and the engagement of the imagination is done differently when you are confronted with live bodies in front of you. Theater can make use of those challenges, but we have a strong tradition of "realism" in the theater - of trying to talk about the way things are rather than what could or should happen. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, but it tends to lead to expressions other than those that would be classified as science fiction.

So, after reading these two different sets of responses to the relationship between theater and science fiction, I'm actually much more encouraged and enthusiastic about science fiction theater. There's some good stuff out there, and there's a lot of potential for more good science fiction theater. I'll just have to keep my eyes open and go to these shows when I have the opportunity. I'd love to see more cyberpunk and steampunk aesthetics onstage. So, have you seen any good science fiction theater? What scifi lends itself to the stage and what doesn't? Or if it doesn't work, why is that?