Radio Drama and Graphic Novelization Collide with Intergalactic Drama at Segerstrom

Radio Drama and Graphic Novelization Collide with Intergalactic Drama at Segerstrom
Sara Bork-Hamilton

While a certain Southern California-based billion dollar company is generating cosmic buzz about the upcoming third trilogy in a well-known space opera franchise, the final installment of the innovative Intergalactic Nemesis trilogy will be landing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to pay SoCal a visit. One of the principal differences between these two sci-fi series is that the latter does not rely on millions of dollars of special effects or an epic soundtrack to tell its story.

About 20 years ago, in Austin, Texas, Jason Neulander set up shop in a coffee house to pay tribute to some old-timey entertainment forms. He wrote several serialized scripts, in the spirit of vintage cliffhanger shows like Flash Gordon, and performed in them the manner of 1930's radio drama. Before long, the show was refined, and a local NPR affiliate aired the episodes, which also featured a foley [sound effects] artist and musical accompanist.

The next stop was the Long Center for the Performing Arts, in Austin, where a visual component was added -- enhancing the experience for the occupants of the 2,400 seat theater. Austin artist Tim Doyle created a comic book rendering of the story, and Neulander had the book's panels projected as a visual accompaniment. This "Live-Action Graphic Novel" takes place in the 1930's-40's and tells the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Molly Sloan and gang, who battle aliens, robots, and save the world. The comedic show is family-friendly and experience of the third installment does not require knowledge of previous episodes.

The Intergalactic Nemesis series, whose episodes include "Target Earth," "Robot Planet Rising," and now "Twin Infinity," has been featured on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NPR's "All Things Considered," and has been written about in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The Weekly had an opportunity to ask Neulander some questions about the show's journey.

OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): What is your pre-Intergalactic Nemesis background?

Jason Neulander: My background is in directing and producing plays. Before The Intergalactic Nemesis, I founded and was the Artistic Director of Salvage Vanguard Theater, a company based in Austin, TX, dedicated to the development and production of new plays by up-and-coming writers. Intergalactic actually came out of that company.

To what extent is the current incarnation of the show (the entire trilogy or even just the first episode) similar to the original 15-minute segments that you performed?

It's pretty different. Those were really rough, kind of first drafts. The shows now are highly polished. Also, the casting is totally different. Back when the project got its start, each character was voiced by an individual actor. Now, three actors do all the voices. It's pretty cool to see them change character right before your eyes.

Are the episodes that you have on Youtube a serialization of the first and second installments ("Target Earth" and "Robot Planet Rising"), or are they another storyline?

The Youtube series is just "Target Earth."

Is The Intergalactic Nemesis strictly an homage to old-timey radio (complemented by the artwork of Tim Doyle, Dave Hutchison, and Lee Duhig), or does it include any underlying social or political commentary?

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It's meant to be an escape, pure and simple. When I came up with the idea of the "Live-Action Graphic Novel" format, I was out of work. So the project for me at that time came to be all about escaping from everyday life a little.

How did you land the gig on the "Conan" show, and how much did this affect your touring schedule and merchandising business?

Conan had a big impact on how seriously venues took the idea of booking the show, which was still (and is still) very much an unknown in most communities. It had no impact on the merchandise part--almost all of our sales are at the shows themselves. We got on Conan because NPR's "All Things Considered" did a story on us. NPR came about because years before I had been interviewed for a series about American theater. I called Bob Mondello, he remembered me, and hooked me up with Audie Cornish.

You are quoted in a Wall Street Journal interview as saying, "Selling out is an issue I grappled with for a long time." What are your views on artistry versus commerce?

I think it's really important for artists to have opportunities to make a living doing what they love. The Intergalactic Nemesis is exactly that scenario for me.

Times for Intergalactic Nemesis at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Samueli Theater: March 21 & 22, 2015. Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 12 and 4 p.m. The performance on Sunday, March 22 at 12 p.m. will be sign-language interpreted

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