You know him as Professor Kannell on HBO's True Blood, but David Dean Bottrell loves science fiction. And he knows a thing or two about theater. Now he and a very talented group of other people you likely know from TV are coming together for Sci-Fest, a sci-fi live theater event that begins tonight in Los Angeles.
L. Scott Caldwell (Lost), Jasika Nicole (Fringe), Dean Haglund (The X-Files) and Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager) are just some of about a dozen sci-fi veterans who will be presenting great sci-fi on stage tonight, and BFTV checked in with David recently to discuss how he brought this epic genre to the stage, and why.
"Pretty much anything that was sci-fi on TV I always loved," he told us. "About two years ago I happened on a short story by Ursula Le Guin. It was called 'The Wife's Story.' And when I read it, it absolutely blew the top of my head off and I thought the ending was cmpeletely chilling. I did think you could put a compelling performer on stage and they could just tell this story and it would be amazing."
Tony winner L. Scott Caldwell will step into the title role of that production, and that's just one of the many plays that audiences have the chance to see during Sci-Fest. Another that features Haglund and Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5) is the late, legendary Ray Bradbury's Kaleidoscope, a play about seven astronauts adrift in space he penned decades before anyone had ever heard of Gravity.
"There are a couple of particularly challenging pieces. One of them is the Bradbury piece. It's sort of like Gravity without the happy ending. We have these astronauts whose ship is destroyed and they're blown into space,' David said. "Bradbury wrote that in, I think, 1949 - which shows you what a visionary he was. We're kind of upgrading that for 2014 and we're in the tech rehearsal right now, trying to figure out how to make our actors float in space."
Sci-fi programming at live events is one thing - we have conventions like San Diego Comic-Con that usually draw a heavy crowd of sci-fi fans. But what really makes Sci-Fest unique is that it's theater. It's not a film festival or a panel. Why did David and his co-producers choose to go that route?
"One of the things that I loved about both 'The Wife's Story' and Kaleidoscope was how amazing the writing was and how both of those pieces really engaged the imagination of the audience," David explained. "The thing that I love about theater is that I am a participant in it. It's not like a movie or TV show where all the work is sort of done for me. I'm asked to use my imagination to step into this world. And the best theatre does that."
"The festival as far as I know is completely unique," he continued. "I don't believe there's ever been a festival done like this before. It's unique because of the city that it's taking place in. Los Angeles has a history with science fiction...Although we didn't invent sci-fi, we certainly helped to turn it into a global product."
Whether it's legends like Ray Bradbury - who settled in Los Angeles in 1934 - or the modern-day community of actors who've been in science fiction productions, many of whom are a part of Sci-Fest, there's no denying that the city has a special connection to this particular genre. Add to that the fact that the event represents another opportunity for audiences to be exposed to live theater, and just the sheer number of talented names that are involved, it's a perfect storm of live entertainment.
And should this first event be successful, there's no reason it can't expand into something even bigger. "I'm excited to see what the future of this festival is," David said. "I'd like to expand it to include short films, science fiction short stories, I'd like to include a science fiction art show.
"I believe that science fiction has always been relevant. It's about human beings imagining their future," he reflected. "So it's always been relevant and it will always be relevant."
Sci-Fest begins tonight and continues next Tuesday, May 13 at the ACME Theatre in Hollywood. For tickets and more information, check out the official website (sci-fest.com).