Southern California is certainly no stranger to science fiction with everything from TV shows to fan conventions to major, big-budget motion pictures being turned out almost daily. What is notably absent, however, is science fiction on the stage. No doubt writers and producers have been hesitant to try to pull off sci-fi plays for many reasons, not the least of which are the costs of high-tech sets, expensive lighting, and an inability to implement the heavy CGI effects that are so prevalent in television and film today.
But actor David Dean Bottrell, who spoke with Riverside Horror on Feb. 24, has decided it is possible to bring sci-fi to the stage, and he intends to prove the point with "Sci-Fest: The First Annual Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival," and it promises to be one of the most unique and exciting events of the year for fans of the genre.
You may recognize Bottrell from a host of guest-starring roles, including creepy Lincoln Meyer on "Boston Legal," along with shows like "True Blood," "Mad Men" and "Justified." Besides acting, however, Bottrell has longed to see science fiction brought to the stage, a concept that few writers, beyond the late Ray Bradbury, have ever attempted.
"Sci-Fest" will consist of two evenings of nine rotating one-act science fiction plays - "think 'Twilight Zone,'" says Bottrell - directed by a host of well-known names, including Dan Castellaneta from "The Simpsons;" Jane Morris, who starred in last year's "Behind the Candelabra," and L.A. theatre veteran Pat Towne, who, among other accomplishments, adapted Frank Zappa's songs for the musical "Joe's Garage."
Bottrell shared how reading a short story spawned the idea for "Sci-Fest."
"The whole idea for the festival began when I happened onto Ursula Le Guin’s 'The Wife’s Story.' It’s so short but so compelling, and it’s all told in first person with this fantastically surprising ending. I remember thinking at the time 'there’s no way to make this into a film without ruining it, but you could just put an amazing performer on stage and simply have them tell this story and it would be chilling.'"
Bottrell ran with the idea, and the concept of bringing a series of plays to the stage began to take shape. "Soon, I started looking around for other sci-fi short plays and found 'Kaleidoscope' by Ray Bradbury."
"Kaleidoscope," the centerpiece of "Sci-Fest," is an innovative revival of Bradbury's classic about seven astronauts left adrift in space after their craft is destroyed. Written 50 years before 2013's Oscar-nominated fan favorite "Gravity," attempting to bring astronauts floating in space to a stage setting is no doubt a production not to be missed.
In an exciting turn of events, "The Wife's Story," the short that started it all, will also be featured at Sci-Fest."
"Incredibly, Ms. Le Guin actually granted us the rights to her story," shared Bottrell. "Tony-Winner L.Scott Caldwell ('Lost') will be performing it. The remaining seven plays are all short, original works, most of them world premieres.”
All the plays boast an impressive list of names that will surely be recognized by fans of sci-fi and horror, especially "trekkies," including Tim Russ from "Star Trek: Voyager" and Armin Shimerman from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" both appearing in "A-li-en The Family;" Madison McLaughlin and Julie McNiven, both of whom have had recurring roles on the CW horror hit "Supernatural," appearing together in "Forwarding Address," and Dean Hagland from "The X-Files" in "Kaleidoscope."
Like the prospect of defying gravity in "Kaleidoscope," the plot descriptions of a few of the plays leave one intrigued and excited to see how "Sci-Fest" will present them on stage, such as "The Ringer," where survivors of an alien invasion strike a horrifying bargain to stay alive or "Tell Me Who You See," which tells the story of a young widow who finds her grief has opened a portal through which something resembling her dead husband is trying to return. Given the website's budget allocation chart shows nearly half the festival's $80,000 production costs are being reserved for sets, lighting, costumes and special effects, it would seem the audience is in for quite a ride. So what can ticket-buyers expect from these sci-fi productions on stage?
“They can expect to see some beautiful writing," says Bottrell. "The scripts run the whole gamut of the sci-fi universe. And like all good sci-fi, they explore our darkest fears but also our humanity and our hope for the future. Plus we have two comedies that are both hilarious."
Bottrell and his producing partners Michael Blaha and Lee Costello have been raising money via Kickstarter since January to raise funds, and thanks to someone Bottrell calls "an angel," every dollar raised by Feb. 28 will be matched dollar for dollar by this anonymous contributor. As of this article, nearly $65,000 had been raised, meaning "Sci-Fest" looks to be on track to meet its goal and hit the stage for its May, 2014 premiere; however, every dollar counts, so "Sci-Fest" is ramping up its marketing over these last four days in the hopes of getting as many dollars matched as possible. Donators are being offered impressive incentives at levels starting at $5.00 up to $10,000 with T-shirts, beautiful custom-designed "Sci-Fest" posters, invites to table reads with the actors, signed scripts and more.
Bottrell exudes enthusiasm and joy as he talks about the project. "Our hope is to do all this wonderful material justice which I think we will. Our crew of actors, directors and designers are truly a dream team. I can barely believe it.”
To get updates on "Sci-Fest," learn more about the actors and directors who will be participating and for a full list of the one-act plays, visit Sci-Fest.com. If you find yourself intrigued and excited, be sure to make a donation to the "Sci-Fest" Kickstarter page.
Follow Rene' on Twitter @scaryreporter