Thursday, June 19, 2014

Theatre on Distant Worlds

Contributed by A. Vincent Ularich

Brian McCarthy in The Aurora Project by Bella Poynton, produced by Science Fiction Theatre Company,
September 2013. Photo by Meghan Quigley

Why is science fiction theatre suddenly so popular?  Science Fiction has existed in society, by even the strictest of definitions, for over a hundred years with novels such as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds. Science Fiction is prominent in many mediums including radio dramas, movies and television shows, yet until very recently it has rarely been performed onstage. Though the Wikipedia page for Science Fiction Theatre has a total of nine entries the 21st century has seen a fantastic shift in this status quo. Science fiction plays are consistently produced in major theatre cities all across the United States. Science fiction theatre festivals are becoming increasingly common including “Sci-Fest” in Los Angeles and the "Sex with Robots Festival" in Queens. The theatre community has welcomed the addition of several companies devoted to staging science fiction theatre such as Stars or Mars Theatre Company in London and Otherworld Theatre Company in Chicago. Also theatre’s academic community has embraced science fiction through the world’s first science fiction theatre conference, “Stage the Future," which was held this spring in London.  With these exciting new outposts for science fiction in theatre, a community is being built that is dedicated to establishing the growing genre.

Why did this exciting genre that has been around for generations just start building traction in the last ten years? It’s not a coincidence that the emergence of science fiction theatre occurred around the same time Hollywood recovered its main stream audience for super hero movies.. The world now has four decades worth of people who grew up on Star Wars and a president who reads Spider-Man comics. Society is in the midst of a geek revolution. This drastic shift from fringe to popular culture for comic book heroes, space epics, time travel romances and other tropes sets a foundation of legitimacy. Kids that grew up watching Star Trek and reading Batman now want these types of stories again now that they are adults. Consequently these stories require a transition into maturity and complexity. Science fiction theatre has been able to fill this void by providing fantastic, complex stories in an intimate setting that cater to an adult palette.  A blue-skinned alien ambassador with glowing eyes can stand in front of an audience without the feeling of camp. Theatre audiences now have the cultural memory to connect with these characters and worlds.

As society’s understanding of science fiction has matured playwrights have been able to use the medium to tell culturally significant stories.   A play about a teleportation accident that creates a duplicate person can address the concept of self.  A story of a woman’s search in space for her lost husband can cover grief at loss of a loved one. A tale of clones can reveal the inner workings of a father/son relationship. The natural interest we having in the fantastical is a great tool and when matched with the intimacy of theatre.  

Today’s theatre audience is ready to be taken to far off universes and distant futures because there is something about these worlds and these stories that feels very familiar.


A. Vincent Ularich is the Artistic Director of Science Fiction Theatre Company ( which is entering its fourth season at the Factory Theater in Boston. He is also a playwright and director with over ten years of experience working in the New York and Boston theater communities. His short play Future Boyfriend was recently featured as part of the comedy line-up of Los Angeles’ science fiction festival “Sci-Fest.”

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