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FOG! Gets The Skinny on SCI-FEST, The Los Angeles Festival of One-Act Sci-Fi Plays

Science Fiction is a literary and art form that often challenges established convention.

So why not challenge the conventions in which Science Fiction is presented?

Whether or not that was the thinking behind Sci-Fest, LA’s first festival of one- act science fiction plays, it’s definitely a rebellious and successful theme within it.

It’s fun to see two worlds that have yet to collide in this manner, theater and science fiction and the results… powerful, disturbing, intimate and fascinating.

If you are in Southern California and can attend I highly suggest it.

I really enjoyed the performances I saw, but instead of giving a review (I hate spoilers!) I thought I’d interview some of the players behind this fantastic production to discuss what led them to science fiction, what led them to Sci-Fest and what this unique experience means to them.

Tim Russ, actor performing in A-LI-EN THE FAMILY

FOG!: As a performer are there any challenges or differences you’ve found between doing a science fiction piece on the stage verses on screen?

Tim Russ: Definitely there are differences.  On screen you have the advantages of film tech in post and the camera to give very convincing sets, locations, make-up, and special effects, etc… to create the sci-fi world. On stage it’s much more difficult to do the same simply because of the physical limitations.

As an actor, the potential challenges are portraying very unusual characters, in equally unusual and or bizarre, fantastical circumstances. Working well outside the conventional contemporary timeline. That being said, many of the emotions you wrestle with are often very human, and or comment on the human condition.

What is one of your favorite Science Fiction pieces (Film, TV, theater or books) that have inspired or influenced you?  

H.G. Wells’, War of the Worlds, was one of my earliest feature film stories that really made an impact on me.  The concept of an innovation and destruction of Earth by such an advanced alien species that wasn’t the least bit interested in communicating or exploring  – just thoughtlessly eliminating and inhabiting the planet, was really frightening.  And of course the posting ending to the story, as to how they meet their demise.

As to books:  Stephen King’s The Langoliers and Dean Koontz’s The Taking.

What are some of your favorite non science fiction pieces that have inspired or influenced you? 

Well there are so many films and stories… as to films, maybe the original and even more so, the current,  Walter Mitty.    And Lady in the Water (although that was more fantasy) But I’m sure there are many I’m forgetting.

Your role in Sci-Fest is an interesting mix of Stage and Radio performance.  Was there anything unique you did to prepare for this show in comparison to others?

Not really – since I am only doing a radio play, I focused more on what voice I was going to use for the character I’m playing.  And making sure I use my voice to portray the emotional dynamics.

Do you embrace the tech and change of the future or do you fear it?

Although I am by no means not a consumer tech fanatic, I often like to project my thoughts about technology into the future based on what we have now and the direction technology is going.  For example,  I believe our technology and it’s uses will out pace natural evolution and nature itself.

Camille Mana, actress performing in TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE

FOG!: How did you become involved with Sci-Fest?

Camille Mana: The director of TELL ME WHO YOU SEE, Jeff Liu, and I have worked together in the past. He is a fantastic director, and apparently came recommended to the producers from multiple references, so that’s how it came to pass. He asked if I was interested in being involved with the inaugural Sci-Fest.  I thought it was a nice thing to jump on board with, since the sci-fi fans themselves pitched in $82K on Kickstarter, why not come along for the ride?

For me, it was an excuse to take a break from things I normally get hired to do – which tend to be more comedic in scope or roles that are somewhat young. I figured it was a nice divergence from that – so I’m counting out two more weeks of playing a young, grounded woman, before going back to the kiddie pool! Ha.

What are some of the challenges of doing a science fiction piece on the stage?

Camille: Being a low budget production as well as being live on a stage, I would say those are all challenges to the genre, which tend to require special effects as well as rely on CGI so much these days. The design team for Sci-Fest has been just fantastic in making the effects realistic and interesting without going to the end of cheesy. TELL ME WHO YOU SEE, in particular, has an extremely effective design element (which I won’t give away for spoilers sake), which many have said they found to be among the most disturbing of the evening.

So: kudos to the designers for that!

As a performer, I have tried to approach the piece without trying to land laughs (which is something I am usually hired to do in some respect or another), and to stay grounded in the weight and stakes of this story – which, I have to attribute to my castmate Angela Lin who is just fantastic and brings so much depth, that it makes me want to invest and be present with her fully. West Liang, the third member of our piece has a really challenging role (which with a lesser actor could have been a little cheesy or feel like a cheap gag), and is doing something very specific and quite haunting with it.

What is one of your favorite Science Fiction pieces (Film, TV, theater or books) that’s inspired or influences you?

Blade Runner is probably one of my favorite Science Fiction pieces. I think I wrote a 10-page paper on it for a college course once! And I don’t think I ever missed a single Wednesday night of LOST in its 6-year run. It’s lovely to go on stage right after L. Scott Caldwell each night.

What is your earliest science fiction memory?

Camille: Ha, when I was really little, my older brother discovered that I was frightened to death of both Robert Stack on Unsolved Mysteries and Elvira. He would play clips of them, and just hearing either of their voices, I would run and hide and cry until he turned them off. The music and stories on Unsolved Mysteries were really creepy to me as a child – something about the unknown, I guess. As far as Elvira, I’m not sure what was so scary about her – aside from her boobs! Ha.

I guess I was scared of the Easter Bunny too, so who knows.

David Dean Bottrell, Creator of Sci-Fest, producer and actor performing in THE RINGER

FOG!: How did the idea of Sci-Fest come to you?

David Dean Bottrell: About two years ago I happened onto Ursula K. Le Guin’s short short, THE WIFE’S STORY and it blew the top of my head off.  I thought it was amazing.  The story is told in the first person and it’s not very long so it occurred to me that it could be performed as a monologue.

That was the beginning of me wondering if we could find enough short pieces to create an entire festival.  Incredibly, we did it.  And miraculously Ms. Le Guin gave us the rights to perform the story.  The whole process has been sort of magical like that.

As a performer what are some of the challenges of doing a science fiction piece on the stage?  As an event producer what were the biggest challenges?

We can’t compete with Hollywood when it comes to bells and whistles (although we have some pretty impressive bells and whistles in two of the shows).  We knew the whole thing would live or die based on the quality of the material.  The scripts are fantastic.  They are truly science fiction of the mind.  We’re inviting people to enter imaginary worlds.

Theatre is an interactive experience.  It’s what I love about it.  It’s been a massive undertaking, but luckily we had a great team.  Producing one play is a big deal.  Producing nine plays is not for the faint of heart.  I’m incredibly proud of the festival.  The end result has been worth the sleepless nights.

What is your earliest science fiction memory?

When I was a kid, the original STAR TREK played in reruns five days a week.  I was sort of an outcast in school, so I loved the characters and the world it depicted where everybody was equal and respected.  In hindsight, the show was visionary.  It had a ton of social commentary.  It was great Science Fiction.

Do you embrace the tech and change of the future or do you fear it?

I have mixed feelings.  Some of the tech stuff, I love.  Some of it is utterly game-changing.  But I don’t like how addicted everybody is to their phones.  Everybody walks along staring at their screens while life (real life) is happening all around them.  That’s not so good.  I don’t think it’s good for the future of creativity either.  Texting seems to be replacing conversation.  People are forgetting how to listen.  And most complex, interesting ideas come from listening.

Robert Hollocks, Producer, Director FOR THE LIVING and Festival Visuals Designer

FOG!: How did you become involved with Sci-Fest and what is your role(s) for the event? 

Robert Hollocks: Well, I knew David quite well, I’d directed him in a Sci-Fi themed web series I created a couple of years back, and he asked me if I would like to direct one of the pieces for Sci-Fest.  I’ve always love science fiction, so jumped at the chance.  I ended up also becoming an associate producer on the project, and as well as directing For the Living.

I directed the Andromeda video warning segments that open the show, with the beautiful  Adrienne Wilkinson (Xena, and Star Trek Renegades) who is heavily disguised under a wig, glowing contacts and body paint!

I also designed and developed the website, and all the print graphics for the show: Posters, Banners, Logos etc)  – which was huge fun – and also a little challenging given how much we needed to do in so little time!

Just to make life even harder, I also designed all the art for the Cloning company in my play (Samsara Inc.)

What are some of the challenges of doing a science fiction piece on the stage?

It’s so different from Film and TV – everything happens in the moment – no post, no CGI, so you have to really find interesting and practical ways of conveying the fantasy elements of what you are doing. The challenge is really to get a live audience to suspend their disbelief, and become immersed in a story without the benefit of photo-real special effects, using lighting, movement, music, and live performance.

We’ve been so lucky to have an incredible team behind the curtain on this.  From Matt Richter’s lighting, to Drew Dalziel and Ben Rock’s video and A/V, an unflappable stage manager in Heidi Hostetler, and a heartbreaking score by a really talented composer, Scott Van Dort – they were incredible to work with, and totally bought into my vision of how my piece should look and feel. Without them, we would never have pulled this off.

For The Living was in some ways easier, than some of the other pieces, as their are no Aliens, Robots, Creatures, etc. At it’s core, it’s a deeply human piece about relationships and how fragile they can be.  My favorite science fiction is when it finds a way to tell really human, relevant stories, or have meaningful commentaries on our world right now.

Sci-Fi is a great way to make people really think about what goes on around us, when it’s sometimes things we shy away from, be it politics, relationships, or other ‘tough’ subject matter. It was always something I loved about Star Trek, in particular.  ( But hell, you cant beat the occasional exploding Death Star too!)

The whole issue of the morality and spiritual implications of cloning fascinate (and scare) me.  I was lucky to have such great actors in the roles too – Sarah-Jane Dalby (Kara) and Tyler Vickers (Ethan), really bring so much life and humanity to the material – it is incredible to watch them got through this tragic story night after night. That’s actually the other fun thing about Theater – Each night it can be so different; it becomes a living, breathing, thing that evolves and changes, depending on so many things – the mood of the actors, the audience, that makes it so different from TV or film.  I LOVED exploring all those things.

What is your earliest science fiction memory?

Man, that has to be Star Trek – the original series.  I remember when it first aired in the UK, my Dad made me a cardboard cutout of the USS Enterprise that he hung up in in my bedroom. The Gorn was the most awesome creature I had ever seen at that point, and yes, I did practice my shoulder rolls.
It goes without saying, being a Brit, I LOVE Doctor Who, too.  I used to dress up like Jon Pertwee, and my brother like Tom Baker, and we used to run around my mum’s bedroom pretending it was the TARDIS… or maybe that was just last week….

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW at two different, riveting
evenings (‘A’ and ‘B’ rotating weekly) of new and classic Sci-Fi works. 
Performances will run Tuesdays -Saturdays @ 8 PM; 
Sundays at 3 PM
through June 1, 2014.

For more details visit
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