Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Science Fiction Tap Opera

ABC 7 in Chicago is reporting on a new tap opera being produced:

"Chicago Tap Theatre's science fiction tap opera, Changes, is on stage featured at the Athenaeum Theatre Studio 3 for a month-long run. The show features the music of rock legend David Bowie and combines the rhythm of tap dance, the innovation of jazz dance and the story-telling capacity of ballet. Changes tells a tangled tale of space travel, alien overlords and social upheaval, based on Bowie's seminal work, "Ground Control to Major Tom."

Changes is the fourth story show created by Chicago Tap Theatre, following last year's sold-out run of The Tell-Tale Tap: Stories of Edgar Allan Poe."

As a writer, this has the little gerbil wheels in my head spinning, wondering how a similar production might be executed from an Asian American perspective.

What if we saw the work of, say, Thai science fiction/horror writer S.P. Somtow adapted into a tap production? Or a version of the stories from the Kwaidan collection, or even an adaptation of Ted Chiang's work? And perhaps, not tap, but traditional Asian dance / theater? What are the possibilities?

S.P. Somtow in Thailand has already experimented with this by transforming the ghost story of Nang Nak into an opera in 2003 in Bangkok.

One of the more intriguing shows I'd seen was Masanari Kawahara's Gojira 1954, A table-top puppet show that addressed the anti-nuclear concerns of the original Japanese version of Godzilla. This was performed in July 2005 at the Center for Independent Artists in Minneapolis.
There was a production of Night of the Living Dead as theater here in Minnesota that was presented at Mounds Theater, and an upcoming production of John Carter of Mars as theater, so I feel there's sufficient and ample precedent.

I understand there are naysayers who think that it's far too much of a niche market: Asian American Science Fiction Theater.

But really, given how many of the stories that are produced anyway already incorporate elements of magic realism, such as Mu Performing Arts' play "The Walleye Kid," or "From Shadows To Light," how great of a stretch is this really?

Kawahara's Gojira 1954 particularly lingers with me as a reminder of what interesting things could occur when we cross-genres and experiment with taking stories into different realms of expression.

Does the visual miniaturization of Godzilla in a live performance environment diminish the greater ecological and socio-political message that was intended in the original film? Or does it in fact hone our focus even more effectively? It's an interesting question for artists and the audience to consider.

What I find myself lamenting is that contemporary Asian American theater in many regions can rarely afford to be so experimental- to take a risk on a Science Fiction Tap Opera, for example. But I think in fact such risks (not necessarily Science Fiction Tap Opera, but in the experimental spirit of), may be key to revitalizing Asian American theater and how we perceive it.

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