I grew up in the cornfields and industrial complexes of Central Illinois where you could hear trains pass in the night and the rumbles of the military planes from the Airport less than a mile from my house would soothe me to sleep. These sounds, which I still find comforting, signaled something bigger and that there was more than what my sheltered, privileged childhood provided. There was another world out there both literally and figuratively. Yes, there was more than Decatur, Il. There were bigger cities and smaller cities and people who would be nicer and people who would be crueler and people who would be smarter and people who wouldn’t be smart at all. But the real world was nothing as exciting as the made up world that informed every perspective I would have on my life from age three and up. The world I found at the Avon Theater, the Rodgers Theater and the Hickory Point Multiplex (where I worked during high school and college.) That world was the movies and the movies were my life. I love cinema from every corner of the world and every genre imaginable. But the HOOK? The hook that pulled me in (as does most children) and rescued me from any attempt at normalcy- was that one movie that had robots and princesses and spaceships and laser guns and wizards and walking space dogs. You know what I am talking about. This movie transformed not only how a generation saw cinema in general, but also the entire Hollywood business model. It became a force (no pun intended) illuminating not only the impact film could have on the imagination of the public in general (particularly the gullible young-ins such as myself) but how the public in general spent their money in relation to the movies. 1977 and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg brought about an entire new way of looking at film. Science Fiction and Fantasy and Horror were given a weight and a respect that was exempt from most critics and the movie going public in general with a few choice exemptions. And I was fortunate enough to be at the age where the meme of B-movie genres had been given A-movie budgets and this was told through the prism of maverick, genius directors.
But this movement, which obviously did and continues to inspire me, also made way for other science fiction possibilities. The more challenging “hard” science fiction opened up to a more mass audience. Comic Books began a new, more sophisticated resurgence. Television opened up to sci-fi and fantasy. What started out as corny and popcorn eventually made way for highly literate and complicated programs. And it also made what inspired all of this said movement- the serialized films and radio plays from the 30s through the 50s saw a new interest. Through a long and windy road, this is what leads us to “Invasion” of today. So, growing up and wholly obsessed with these movies, and sitting under the summer, Illinois stars (those incredible stars) in my front yard, I would yearn to be a part of that some day. My thought at such a young age was that is was the actors who made these things. I wanted to be an actor. So mom put me in plays and drove me to classes, etc. etc. etc. How much fun was that? Tons.
Fast forward. I know better. I wanted to make movies more than anything. The actors actually have very little power in the field of filmmaking. I started to write and I went to film school. But I had also fallen in love with the theater. Head over heels. There is nothing quite like it for the audience and there is certainly nothing quite like for the actors. Two summers ago I had the incredible honor and privilege of working on Inner Mission’s Production of “Dog Sees God” at the Diversionary Theater. This was a seminal experience for me. Not only was it a great artistic and fully meaningful experience, it also cemented my close friendship with a gang that some of which would go on to form Circle Circle Dot Dot. I would sit and laugh backstage with Katie Harroff before I would have to go be brutalized onstage. I loved every second.
It was around this same time that I started to write screenplays in earnest. I wasn’t getting younger and I was dying creatively (aside from being in DSG). I felt my destiny was escaping me- as arrogant as that sounds. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I bought a camera. Despite personal setbacks (that is whole other blog, friends.) I was not going to let my dreams die. I wasn’t raised to do that.
Sometime around February I was in Circle Circle Dot Dot’s fundraiser called “Love Roulette,” and it was a series of one-acts about love and it was held for Valentine’s Day. Brilliant concept and lots of fun. I was also in a show called “The Mending Monologues,” which was about sexual abuse and putting a stop to violence against women. Important yes. Necessary yes. Proud of this? Very. BUT. This sort of highlights a trend I have had in the theater world. The last pieces of stage acting I had participated in I had A) Been victimized and committed suicide B) My wife had gotten breast cancer and died. C) My dad beat me until I beat him back and D) I was a loser without self-awareness and would be lonely for the rest of my life. I loved every one of those pieces and being in them. BUT…come on! It was time I did something….fun. For the sake of…fun. So, I thought- I need to make a movie. I want to do something fun. Circle had a great concept with their “love” pieces and I made a joke about the next one being a sci-fi one. These guys are my best friends. My next piece is a sci-fi mindfuck. Bingo. In researching sci-fi plays I came across these radio plays (many that would go on to be filmed as episodes from TV’s greatest series ever, “The Twilight Zone.”) and I was more than impressed. Some of these got so many things right. So many got so many things wrong (so, so, SO wrong). But what really impressed me was the simple storytelling. Despite being dated (or not) these were written by true artists. And I realized that ALMOST each and every one of them were not being told just for the sake of ‘fun.” These were deep. These could be profound. They were addressing the same issues or as equally important of issues as any news piece or documentary. I suppose I knew this on some level but wasn’t exactly sure how deep this was. These accessed places in the imagination that are raw but vivid. The fears are base and primal. The hopes are exactly the same. What is unseen (it was the radio, after all) will always have more impact than anything you can sense visually. BUT- they remained such as fun and as exhilarating as I could have hoped for.
And, as synchronicity would have it, Ray Bradbury died just as I was I was becoming familiar with his short stories. I felt like he was hiding in plain view my entire life. Of course I had read Fahrenheit 451 but he just seemed too obvious and mainstream for this particular English Literature major to actually take seriously. How wrong was I? Very. And his work also pulled the rug out of another misconception that I (and much of the public) had in regards to Science Fiction prior to 1977- that this genre was, in fact, not taken seriously by critics and academia. Of course it was. There was crap. And then there Bradbury. And there was Arthur C. Clarke. And Heindleim. There was Jules Verne. There was greatness out there, but I am going to zero in on Bradbury. He was a poet and a thinker and as good of a writer as any other American author. His presence in the American Canon is my greatest surprise in preparing the show. And I am very, VERY excited to be bringing several of his stories to (hopefully) a new audience.
So, back to my journey of “Invasion.” I started with Sam and then asked Melissa and then asked Brendan all before I got the courage to ask Katie what they thought of helping me bring about this show. We all loved each other and I really hoped we could help each other. There was a chorus of “yes” and the next thing you know I am casting this monolith (21 actors, kids! 21 actors!), finding directors aside from myself (I am so honored to have Melissa Coleman Reed and Jerry Burke directing pieces- I am waiting in awe and anticipation to see what they do. I literally get shivers of excitement thinking about it!), there is also the matter of bringing about the space (ION THEATER are my heroes! Thanks so much you guys!) and the sound dude (Matt Lescault-Wood is genius). Getting to go and be a part of this process in just seeing this show evolve and form with Circle Circle Dot Dot has been, indisputably, the highlight of my year thus far. Katie Harroff is as fierce and kind and inspiring ringleader as any I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with (and I have known and worked with busloads- trust.) If you know Katie you already know this, but I feel like Providence was smiling on me when she was put in my corner- goodness, I got lucky. I could not be any more proud to know that I am inching my way towards my dream WHILE helping my all-time favorite theater company raise funds for their next show. Talk about WIN-WIN. (and then add on a few more ‘WINS’).
While the show is a ‘fundraiser,’ and a staged reading, I think it way more than just that. It will be as exciting a piece of theater as I can imagine. I mean, here it is- the art forms that have informed me my whole life sort of merging into one day, into a genre that is fun and as profound as any. I feel I have taken the world I knew in Central Illinois that was made up and helped bring it to the world I know in Southern California- a dream world that is also my true reality and real home. I hope you come to our show. And I really hope you enjoy it.